The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Ivan Lewis): The UK Debt Management Office (DMO) has today published its business plan for the year 200607. Copies are available in the Libraries of both Houses and from DMO's website, www.dmo.gov.uk.
The Secretary of State for Defence (John Reid): On 16 December 2004, Official Report, column 1798, as part of the wider programme to modernise the UK's defence capabilities, the then Secretary of State for Defence announced to the House the Government's intention to create two new units that would significantly improve the specialist support to the Special Forces and enhance our global capacity to fight terrorism.
The first of these new units, the Special Reconnaissance Regiment, became operational in April 2005 and is already delivering a globally deployable special reconnaissance capability to the UK Special Forces.
The second new unit is the "Special Forces Support Group". SFSG is an enhanced capability that will directly support UK Special Forces intervention operations around the world and will provide the UK with an additional counter-terrorist capability.
I am pleased to be able to inform the House today that the SFSG has now stood up in St. Athan, near Cardiff, and achieved Initial Operating Capability as planned on 3 April.
Personnel for the new unit have been drawn from the Parachute Regiment, the Royal Marines, and the Royal Air Force Regiment. The unit will be part of the UK Special Forces Group.
The principal role of the SFSG is to provide direct support to UKSF intervention operations, as well as reinforcing UKSF in other key capability areas such as provision of specialist training and support to domestic CT operations. It will have a specific specialist infantry role and personnel will be equipped and trained accordingly.
The Minister for Europe (Mr. Douglas Alexander):
My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and Sir John Grant (UK Permanent Representative to the EU) represented the UK at the General Affairs and External
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Relations Council (GAERC) in Luxembourg on 10 April. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development represented the UK for the half-day of discussions on 11 April.
The agenda items covered on 10 April were as follows:
Inter-Institutional Agreement (IIA)
The Presidency briefed the Council on progress towards an Inter-Institutional Agreement with the European Parliament on the 200713 Financial Perspective.
World Trade Organisation/Doha Development Agenda
Commissioner Mandelson briefed the Council on discussions with Brazil and the US in Rio de Janiero.
A number of member states spoke in support of the Commission and the economic importance of a deal.
A special session of the Council will be convened, if necessary, in the margins of negotiations in Geneva towards the end of April.
The Council had a discussion with a view to helping the Presidency prepare a renewed EU sustainable development strategy to be adopted at the June European Council.
In June 2005, the European Council adopted a declaration on guiding principles for sustainable development based on the four principles of environmental protection, social equity and cohesion; economic prosperity; and meeting international responsibilities. In December 2005, it looked forward to adopting in June 2006 an ambitious and comprehensive strategy, comprising targets, indicators and an effective monitoring procedure, integrating the internal and external dimensions and based on a positive long-term vision, bringing together the Community's sustainable development priorities and objectives.
The Presidency recalled the serious shortcomings in the conduct of the Presidential election of 19 March and the Council's agreement at its meetings on 7 November 2005 and 30 January 2006 to take action if the election was not conducted according to international standards.
There was broad support in the Council for a firm EU response to the elections. Ministers agreed to adopt a visa ban, and possible further targeted measures, against President Lukashenko, the Belarusian leadership and officials responsible for the violations of international human rights law.
There was agreement in the Council that these restrictive measures should be complemented by greater EU support for students, the opposition and greater engagement with civil society.
The Council adopted Conclusions deploring the Presidential elections as neither free nor fair, condemning the violence used by the Belarusian authorities against demonstrators and arrests of members of the opposition and implementing restrictive measures against those responsible for the violations of international electoral standards as well as the crackdown on civil society and democratic opposition.
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The Council discussed the situation in Ukraine following the 26 March parliamentary elections including the ongoing attempts to form a new government.
The Council noted that the elections had consolidated the democratic breakthrough in Ukraine and provided a strong basis for renewed efforts to move forward key reforms. External Relations Commissioner Ferrero-Waldner said that talks on an enhanced Agreement to succeed the Partnership and Co-operation Agreement should support Ukraine's reform process.
Foreign Ministers discussed the current situation on the ground. There was broad consensus among the Council on the principle that the EU should be firm in its policy towards Hamas while maintaining the EU's commitment to help meet the Palestinian people's basic needs. Ministers also endorsed the Commission's temporary suspension of direct funding to the Palestinian Authority. This is a precautionary measure, pending conclusion of a review of EU assistance to the Palestinians. Aid to support basic human needs including health and education of the Palestinian people would continue.
The Council agreed Conclusions expressing grave concern at the Palestinian Government's failure to commit itself to the Quartet principles; urging the Government to meet and implement these principles and to commit to President Abbas' platform of peace and outlining the EU's review of assistance against the Government's commitment to these principles.
High Representative Solana presented a paper that set out options for future EU policy towards Iran. The Council agreed Conclusions calling on Iran to fulfil International Atomic Energy Agency Board/UN requirements to suspend all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities, welcoming the conclusions of the 30 March Ministerial in Berlin and underlining the EU's continued concern about the human rights situation in Iran.
The Council had a brief discussion on the implementation of the outcome of the 2005 UN World Summit. Several member states emphasised the important role the EU should continue to play in the reform process.
The Council adopted Conclusions welcoming the adoption of the resolution to establish the Human Rights Council as an essential element in further strengthening the UN human rights machinery as well as being an important step forward in the UN reform process.
Member states were briefed on the floods in central and south-east Europe. Some of the worst affected member states were examining the possibility of applying for EU assistance under the solidarity fund.
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AOBHigh Level meeting on a Single Free Trade Area in South East Europe
Romania briefed the Council on the decision at the High Level meeting on 6 April in Bucharest to launch negotiations on a regional free trade agreement on the basis of a Central Europe Free Trade Agreement.
The Netherlands raised the recent demonstrations in South East Turkey.
The agenda items covered on 11 April were as follows:
10th European Development Fund (EDF): Internal Agreement and Financial Protocol
The Presidency opened by recalling the December 2005 agreement of the European Council for a 10th EDF of €22.682 billion, and emphasising that member states now needed to transfer this into an operational framework.
Development Ministers discussed the Commission's proposals to top-up the €22.682 billion figure with additional resources to fund (1) activities in Overseas Countries and Territories and (2) the Commission's administrative costs associated with the implementation of the EDF. The matter was referred back to COREPER by the Presidency for further discussion and decision. The Commission also updated the Council on the implementation of the Africa Strategy and on Commission activities which were being undertaken as part of the strategy. Member states raised a number of points in response, including a request for the Commission to regularly update the Council on progress.
The Council adopted the conclusions on Aid Effectiveness. There was agreement to continue the good progress towards meeting EU aid volume goals and to move, on a voluntary basis, towards more joint work on country programmes between Commission and member states, based on a Common Framework for country strategies.
The Presidency noted the Commission's rolling work programme for Policy Coherence for Development (PCD) and, following a brief exchange of views, the Council adopted Conclusions on the PCD reaffirming the importance of policy coherence, inviting member states and the Commission to develop a more detailed rolling work programme by June 2006 and highlighting specific priority areas for action and a timetable on PCD.
Reform of Humanitarian Assistance: exchange of views
The Presidency opened the discussion by recognising the scope for better coordination between the areas of crisis management/civilian protection and humanitarian assistance. Development Ministers drew attention to various areas, including the UN's Central Emergency Revolving Fund; the idea of a humanitarian ombudsman or an annual global report on humanitarian assistance; the role of the Peace Building Commission in providing assistance beyond the initial humanitarian response; and
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the need for greater coherency between the Commission and Council. The Presidency will organise an event on humanitarian assistance to further discussion.
Development Ministers discussed their priorities and ideas for UN Reform, including a three pillar approach (humanitarian, development and environmental), streamlining of UN agencies, the four "Ones" principle (in each country one office, one leader, one programme and one budget line) and more predictable funding for the UN. The Presidency will host a meeting in Vienna on 9 June to discuss UN Reform and system-wide coherence more broadly. Several member states are represented on the Secretary General's panel.
Signature of the Internal Agreement on Procedures
In the margins of the Council the "Internal Agreement on Procedures", one of the implementing documents for the revised Cotonou Agreement, was signed by Development Ministers.
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