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Written Ministerial Statements

Friday 19 October 2007

Communities and Local Government

Community Empowerment - Building on Success

The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Hazel Blears): Today the Department for Communities and Local Government is publishing an action plan in partnership with the Local Government Association setting out a substantive and exciting community empowerment agenda. I will be launching the plan at the National Council for Voluntary Organisations later this morning.

The document “An Action Plan for Community Empowerment: Building on Success” outlines proposals to create change at a very local level. The plan draws on existing good practice and brings together a range of actions to broaden and deepen empowerment activity. It forms an important strand of the Government's overall strategy for constitutional renewal, as set out in the Governance of Britain Green Paper. It will also be a building block to develop a cross-Government approach to community empowerment. It sets out activities in three key areas: widening and deepening empowerment opportunities locally; supporting and enabling people to take up those opportunities; and strengthening local representative democracy.

The document has been placed in the Libraries of both Houses and can be accessed via the Communities and Local Government website at: http://www.communities.gov.uk/publications/communities/communityempowermentactionplan

Defence

Airfield Review (Tertiary Airfield Support)

The Minister for the Armed Forces (Mr. Bob Ainsworth): On 18 July 2002, Official Report, columns 460-464, my right hon. Friend, the Member for Ashfield (Mr Hoon) the then Secretary of State for Defence, announced the publication of a new chapter to the 1998 Strategic Defence Review (SDR) that was designed to ensure that our defence policies, capabilities and force structures matched the challenges that the new terrorist threats posed.

Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) comprises: armed Tornado F3 and Typhoon aircraft held at ground readiness for immediate take-off; the Air Surveillance and Control System to provide warning and command and control of the fighter aircraft; and tanker aircraft also held at high ground readiness. QRA fulfils two concurrent functions. Firstly, it meets the United
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Kingdom's responsibility within NATO to provide air policing of agreed member airspace. Secondly, under UK national control, QRA provides an airborne contribution to countering threats against the UK by terrorist organisations or individuals. The SDR New Chapter confirmed that airfields across the UK—RAF Marham, RAF St Mawgan and RNAS Yeovilton—would be able to support QRA aircraft when needed, in addition to the bases from which the QRA aircraft usually operate.

Following the decision to dispose of the airfield at RAF St Mawgan, we have reviewed the short term tertiary airfields that support quick reaction alert aircraft and decided that MOD Boscombe Down and RNAS Culdrose will now be enabled by Spring 2008 to cover any potential threats to the south and south-western airspaces. In the interim, RAF St Mawgan will continue to be utilised as necessary to support short term QRA aircraft. RAF Marham will continue to be maintained as a tertiary QRA airfield. This support is in addition to the bases that are already able to operate such aircraft and will give us enhanced flexibility in our air defence arrangements.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Agriculture and Fisheries Council

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Hilary Benn): I will be representing the United Kingdom for the agricultural items at this month's Agriculture and Fisheries Council in Luxembourg. The Minister with responsibility for marine, landscape and rural affairs, my hon. Friend the Minister for Chatham and Aylesford (Jonathan Shaw), will represent the UK for the fisheries items. The Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment, Richard Lochhead, will also attend.

The Council will hold a policy debate on Commission proposals for reform of the common market organisation for the wine sector.

The Presidency will seek political agreement on a proposal amending a regulation on the financing of the Common Agricultural Policy.

The Presidency will seek political agreement on requests for national aids in Bulgaria and Romania to assist with the aftermath of recent drought conditions.

The Presidency will also seek political agreement on a proposal fixing cod recovery measures and a range of catch restrictions to apply in the Baltic Sea for 2008.

The Council will hold an exchange of views on the EU/Norway fisheries agreement for 2008 based on a Presidency questionnaire.

The Health and Consumer Protection Commissioner will then present the Commission's Communication on EU Animal Health Strategy (2007-2013) "Prevention is better than cure".

A number of issues, as follows, will be raised under any other business: Spain will request Council discussion of the future of the bluefin tuna fishery.

Poland will request Council discussion on the situation in the pigmeat market.


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Foreign and Commonwealth Office

General Affairs and External Relations Council

The Minister for Europe (Mr. Jim Murphy): My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, Kim Darroch (UK Permanent Representative to the EU) and I represented the UK at the General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC) in Luxembourg.

Before the Presidency opened the Council, it briefed Partners on the Intergovernmental Conference on the draft EU Reform Treaty, ahead of the European Council on 18-19 October. The UK was assured by the Presidency that the language in the Reform Treaty which allows national parliaments to challenge proposed EU legislation on subsidiarity grounds is permissive and contains no obligation, and that the Treaty text will be amended to reflect this.

The Government are content that all the UK red lines have been achieved and are reflected in the new draft Treaty text published by the Presidency on 5 October, a copy of which has been sent to Parliament.

The agenda items covered were as follows:

General Affairs

Reinforcing the EU's disaster response

The Council discussed the EU's response mechanisms, following the recent natural disasters in Europe. The Council invited the Commission to develop proposals on the basis of the lessons learned from the recent emergencies, which the Government support.

External Relations

EU-Russia Summit preparations

The Council discussed preparations for the EU-Russia Summit in Mafra on 26 October. Discussion at the Summit is expected to cover climate change, energy and international issues including Kosovo, the Middle East Peace Process, Iran, Afghanistan and Moldova. The Government support the EU -Russia Summit and have been working closely with Partners on the preparations.

Chad, Central African Republic and Sudan

The Council discussed the situation in the wider region, before agreeing a Joint Action on the proposed EU peacekeeping force in Chad and the Central African Republic (EUFOR Tchad-CAR), under the European Security and Defence Policy, supporting the multi-dimensional UN Security Council mandated presence by contributing to the protection of refugees and internally displaced people, and facilitating the delivery of humanitarian assistance.

The Council adopted Conclusions supporting ongoing efforts by the UN and African Union to resolve the conflict in Darfur and expressing the EU's commitment to improving the security situation in the wider region through the deployment of EUFOR Tchad-CAR. The Conclusions, which the Government fully support, expressed concern about the recent announcement by the Sudan People's Liberation Movement to suspend its participation in the Government of National Unity, and urged the
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continuation of regional dialogue to achieve reconciliation including full implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement.

Burma

The Council discussed the deteriorating situation in Burma before agreeing a package of EU measures against the regime including a trade and investment ban in the timber, gems and precious metals sectors, which the Government fully support.

The Council adopted Conclusions condemning the violent use of force against the demonstrators and calling on the regime to engage with the UN-led reconciliation process while expressing the EU's readiness to review these measures in light of developments, with the threat of further measures if necessary —including a ban on future EU investment, as called for by the Prime Minister.

Zimbabwe

The Council discussed sending an envoy to Zimbabwe to report back on the economic and humanitarian situation in Zimbabwe. The Presidency and the High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, Javier Solana, is taking this forward.

Western Balkans

The Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) briefed the Council on Serbia's co-operation with ICTY.

The Council adopted Conclusions, which the Government support, welcoming the signature of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement with Montenegro and expressing the EU's support for High Representative Miroslav Lajcak and efforts to progress key reforms in Bosnia and Herzegovina in particular police reform. The Council also expressed full support for efforts by the Troika (EU, Russia and US) to secure a negotiated settlement on the status of Kosovo.

Libya

The Council discussed Libya following the release of the medical workers sentenced to death in connection with the infection of children with HIV/AIDS in Benghazi.

The Council adopted Conclusions giving the Commission a mandate to open negotiations with Libya on a framework agreement in areas of mutual interest including illegal migration. The Government support the Commission's work in this area.

Middle East Peace Process

The Council adopted Conclusions, which the Government support, encouraging the continued dialogue between President Abbas and Prime Minister Olmert, reiterating the hope that the meetings will lead to meaningful negotiations on final status. The Council Conclusions also expressed full support for the Annapolis meeting in November hosted by the US and stressed the importance of the EU: providing financial support to the Palestinian Authority as soon as possible; urgently re-engaging and expanding the EU Police Mission in the West Bank (EUPOL CORPS); and opening the crossings into Gaza.

The Council adopted Conclusions on Lebanon condemning the assassination of MP Antoine Ghanem and urging agreement on a Presidential candidate through dialogue.


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Iran

The Council discussed ways the EU could contribute to international efforts to resolve the Iranian nuclear issue, which include the E3+3-led (UK, France, Germany, Russia, China and US) twin-track diplomatic approach supported by the Government, offering Iran a substantial package of benefits if they co-operate, but incremental UN sanctions if they continue to defy international law.

The Council adopted Conclusions which fully reflect the Government's position, reiterating its support for the efforts by the High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, Javier Solana, to encourage Iran to return to talks on a long-term solution, and calling for Iran's full and timely implementation of all measures required by or agreed with the International Atomic and Energy Agency, while expressing the EU's intention to consider what additional measures it might take to support the UN process and the shared objectives of the international community.


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Iraq

The Council reaffirmed its commitment to supporting the Government of Iraq to bring stability, security and prosperity to all of its citizens. It discussed ways in which the EU could enhance its engagement with Iraq, including through supporting implementation of the UN's role as set out in UN Security Council Resolution 1723; building the capacity of central institutions; and providing humanitarian assistance. The Government welcome this discussion and support deeper EU engagement in Iraq.

Democratic Republic of Congo

The Council discussed the deteriorating situation in the East of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

AOB: Economic Partnership Agreements

The Commission briefed the Council on developments in the Economic Partnership Agreements with African, Caribbean and Pacific countries.


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