The Secretary of State for Defence (Des Browne): In a written statement on 14 May (Official Report, column 60WS) I announced that there would be a public inquiry into the death of Baha Mousa, who died in Iraq in September 2003 while being detained by British soldiers.
The inquiry will be held under the Inquiries Act 2005 and it will be chaired by the Rt Hon. Lord Justice Gage, who is about to retire from the Court of Appeal. Lord Justice Gage is a very experienced judge and I am grateful to him for taking on this important task. He has decided to chair the inquiry alone, that is without other panel members. He may, however, decide to appoint assessors who can assist him with expert knowledge and advice.
To investigate and report on the circumstances surrounding the death of Baha Mousa and the treatment of those detained with him, taking account of the investigations which have already taken place, in particular where responsibility lay for approving the practice of conditioning detainees by any members of the 1st Battalion The Queen's Lancashire Regiment in Iraq in 2003, and to make recommendations.
In my statement on 14 May I described the death of Mr. Mousa as a disturbing incident; this was not just because a man died in the custody of British soldiers, but because an investigation by the Royal Military Police and subsequent court martial highlighted further important questions that needed to be answered. I am confident that the terms of reference I have set out will not only enable the inquiry to conduct a thorough examination of the circumstances surrounding the death, but are sufficiently focused to ensure that its conclusions can be reached in a timely manner.
The inquiry will, of course, have the full support of the Ministry of Defence. Much work is in hand to ensure that the inquiry has the material it needs and that those who will be required to assist the inquiry are given legal advice.
The Secretary of State for Defence (Des Browne): I am pleased to announce that I am today publishing the Ministry of Defences annual report and accounts 2007-08. It combines the Departments annual performance report and departmental resource accounts in a single document that provides a comprehensive overview of the MODs financial and non-financial performance for the year, a final assessment of performance against the 2004 spending review public service agreement targets, and a provisional assessment of final performance against the 2004 spending review efficiency target. Copies have been placed in the Library of the House. It is also available online from the Departments website at www.mod.uk/DefenceInternet/DefenceFor/Researchers/.
This has been a challenging year for Defence. The operational tempo remained high with the continuing operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. In those theatres and others, British forces are making a huge contribution to international security. We have made real progress in developing our relationship with industry, promoting innovation and improving the whole procurement process. Our armed forces are now better equipped than ever before. The report also details the considerable progress the Ministry of Defence has simultaneously made in delivering the capabilities and reformed force structure set out in the July 2004 Command Paper Delivering Security in a Changing World: Future Capabilities, other elements of the defence change programme, the defence acquisition change programme, the capability review, and the Governments wider sustainability goals.
The success of Defence is dependent on the men and women of the Armed Forces and the civilians who support them. They continue to do an exceptional job. The Government remain committed to providing the support that they need and deserve.
The Minister for the Environment (Mr. Phil Woolas): The Government are today publishing their response to a consultation on proposals to revise the regulations which implement the nitrates directive. Copies will be placed in the Libraries of the House.
The consultation drew a very high response from stakeholders and prompted two Westminster Hall debates and an inquiry by the Environment Food and Rural Affairs Committee. I am also writing today to the Chairman of the Select Committee to respond to its report.
The consequences of nitrate pollution of water are serious. They include high treatment costs for removing it from drinking water sources, adverse impacts on biodiversity and the aquatic ecosystem, and reduced amenity use and benefits. Agriculture is the main source of this pollution, chiefly from manures and fertilisers. The key to addressing this problem is to achieve an improvement in farming practices, and the nitrates regulations make an important contribution to that. They are part of a broader approach that is being developedas highlighted earlier this year in the Governments water strategy for Englandto address diffuse sources of pollution from all sources, both agricultural and non agricultural.
A factual analysis of comments received on the consultation proposals has been published on the Defra website at http://www.defra.gov.uk/corporate/consult/waterpollution-nitrates/summary-responses.pdf
The Government have considered very carefully the points made by stakeholders and have refined some of the proposals, largely to address practical implementation difficulties which they identified. For example:
Cover cropswe are removing the proposed cover crops measure. Instead, we are exploring whether there is scope for introducing a new management option within entry level stewardship.
Closed periods for organic manurewe intend to remove the higher rainfall band and align the closed periods end dates according to soil type and are adding a new exemption for registered organic producers.
Capacity of storage vesselswe are increasing the implementation time allowed for this measure from two to three years and are adding a refinement to the storage requirement calculation to allow farmers to take account of the amount of manure that can be spread to low risk run-off land.
Whole farm limit for livestock manurewe are reiterating our commitment to seek a derogation from the European Commission on the 170 kg/ha whole farm limit as a matter of urgency.
As the EFRA Committee report acknowledged, the directive prescribes specific measures that must be included in member states regulations to achieve the environmental objectives of the directive. We have made full use of the limited discretionary elements of the directives provisions in drafting regulations which will be laid before the House in September. We also intend to align the implementation of the directive with our anaerobic digestion strategy.
This package of measures represents the best way forward for addressing concerns raised by stakeholders within the constraints of our obligations to comply with the directive and protect our waters from nitrates from agricultural sources. Officials will be meeting those affected to explain the new requirements, and arrangements will be set up to provide farmers with advice and guidance.
The Minister for the Environment (Mr. Phil Woolas): My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has today laid before Parliament a progress report as required by Section 81 of the Water Act 2003, setting out the action taken by Government to encourage the conservation of water during the period 1 April 2004 - 31 March 2007 and the steps Government propose to take in the future.
This is the first such report we have prepared. The first report was due to cover the three year period from 1 April 2004-31 March 2007. However, the drought of 2004-06 together with the subsequent development, with stakeholders, of a new water strategy for England enables us to present a comprehensive report to Parliament, particularly in respect of our future proposals.
We published our water strategy for England, Future Water, in February 2008, which provides a comprehensive forward look of the Governments plans for water in the future. The key message contained in Future Water was that we all need to value water and take responsibility for protecting this essential and unique resource. Todays report sets out the Governments contribution to date and our plans for the future to help achieve this aim.
A copy of the report is also available of the DEFRA website at http://defraweb/environment/water/conserve/what.htm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Jonathan Shaw): The 2007-08 annual report and accounts for the Rural Payments Agency will be laid before Parliament today.
The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Hilary Benn): We announced in December 2006 that uplands support will be integrated into environmental stewardship from 2010, replacing the Hill Farm allowance. At that time we said we were minded to do this through a specific uplands strand to the entry level stewardship (ELS) scheme but that further analysis was needed to ensure that this would deliver the fullest environmental benefit.
Our objective for this new strand of environmental stewardship will be to maintain and improve the biodiversity, natural resources, landscape and historical value of Englands uplands, and to contribute to climate change mitigation and adaptation, by supporting the land management practices which deliver these benefits.
We want to secure public goods on a landscape scale, additional to those delivered by ELS, by supporting large numbers of upland farmers and land managers in delivering simple yet effective environmental management
in the uplands. This is in recognition of the significance of the uplands in delivering a wide range of public benefits, and of the critical role that farmers and land managers play (particularly through extensive livestock grazing).
Uplands ELS will be open to all upland farmers and land managersproviding they can meet the requirementsand will be targeted at those carrying out the land management. We want it to be sufficiently flexible to allow farmers to adapt to future policy and market changes, whilst still delivering environmental and landscape benefits. We have also listened to pleas from farmers and other stakeholders to keep it simple.
We have worked closely with Natural England and stakeholders in developing the proposals, including through advice from a hill farmers' panel. We will be seeking views from the wider hill farming community over the summer, and testing the proposals with a range of hill farms so that we can ensure they are practical for the farmers involved, and achieve our objectives. We will also explore possible transitional arrangements for farmers and land managers in other closed agri-environment schemes. I will make a further announcement on the final scheme later this year.
The Minister for Europe (Mr. Jim Murphy): The General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC) will be held on 22 July in Brussels. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will represent the UK.
Ministers are likely to discuss the Commissions Political Options and Piracy Options papers. The former covers the general political situation in Somalia. We agree with its findings and proposals, namely that the EU should continue to support the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General in implementing UNSCR 1814, which sets out seven key areas for international action, and increase support for the Djibouti Agreement and AMISOM. On the Piracy Options paper, we agree that the EU should look at ways to help implement UNSCR 1816 on piracy. Our priority is to ensure a flexible approach from EU member states, bringing greater co-ordination of effort in the region, without duplicating or competing with existing arrangements.
We expect the Council conclusions to welcome the recent AU summit and its efforts on Somalia, including calls to reinforce AMISOM; to agree the importance of the UN's role in Somalia in regard to strengthening the Transitional Federal Institutions. The conclusions may also suggest that the Council Secretariat and European Commission study all possible options on how to best contribute to the implementation of UNSCR 1816.
Discussion of the Western Balkans is likely to be brief, focussing on Serbia and Kosovo. On Serbia, Ministers are likely to discuss the recent formation in Belgrade of a pro-European Government. The Government are supportive of conclusions welcoming the formation of
the new Government and encouraging it to fully co-operate with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and play a constructive role in the region. On Kosovo, discussion is likely to centre on progress in deploying the EU's police and rule of law mission, EULEX. The Government support the reconfiguration of international presences in Kosovo, with EULEX rapidly deploying throughout Kosovo.
The GAERC will discuss the EUs position at the EU-Ukraine summit on 9 September. The main objective of the summit will be to reach broad agreement on the key elements of a new enhanced agreement currently being negotiated between the EU and Ukraine with a view to providing impetus to the negotiations and to economic and political reform in Ukraine more generally. The presidency is seeking to agree an ambitious EU position at the summit, for which the UK will offer strong support. We want the EUs new enhanced agreement with Ukraine to be an ambitious one that underpins further reform and holds out the prospect of eventual membership of the EU. There will be no conclusions.
High Representative Solana is expected to brief Ministers on the outcome of his meeting with Saeed Jalili on 19 July and whether or not the Iranians are ready to accept the terms of the offer made by the E3 plus 3. In the light of this, the Council is also expected to discuss a new Common Position on strengthened implementation of UNSCR 1803. And Ministers may also discuss the need for further EU sanctions against Iran in the light of its continued defiance of UNSCRs 1696, 1737, 1747 and 1803, as well as the recent IAEA reports reinforcing concerns about Irans nuclear programme. The Government fully support strengthening EU sanctions against Iran and has been pressing partners to support the sanctions track, alongside incentives, as a way of influencing the growing political debate inside Iran.
The Quartet Representative, Tony Blair, is expected to debrief Ministers on the latest developments. France is likely to set out their presidencys plans for the Middle East Peace Process. Discussion is also like to focus on: the EUs practical and political support for the process; the continuing negotiations between Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas; the Gaza ceasefire; and the humanitarian and economic situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
The Government are committed to supporting the process initiated at Annapolis, which has put the Israelis and Palestinians on a path to real negotiations in 2008, leading to a final settlement of two states living side by side in peace and security. Israeli security is absolutely fundamental to a just solution; and Palestinian hardship can only be tackled through a political process that creates an economically and socially viable Palestinian state at peace with Israel.
We expect the GAERC to focus on the contributions of EUFOR and MINURC AT to the regional security situation. EUFOR is the EUs military mission to eastern Chad and CAR, and MINURCAT is the accompanying
UN police-training mission. The Council conclusions will highlight the contributions to EUFOR from non-EU countries, which the Government welcome. The Government will support references to EUFORs continued impartiality in all regional conflicts, and the good co-ordination between EUFOR and MINURCAT. The Government hope that MINURCAT will continue its deployment in Chad, and that the rate of deployment will increase where possible.
The Government expect the Council to agree conclusions underlining the EUs deep concern over the situation in Zimbabwe and the deteriorating humanitarian situation. The Council conclusions will underline that the EU cannot recognise the 27 June election result as credible or reflecting the will of the Zimbabwean people.
Ministers are expected to discuss the progress of the Transatlantic Economic Council (TEC) and visa/customs issues. The Government fully support the TEC as a vehicle to drive forward closer EU-US economic co-operation. TEC meetings have made some progress, although discussions have been strained at times on controversial issues such as EU imports of US poultry. Our aim at this meeting is to ensure that such issues do not distract from what we consider to be the TECs priorities: eliminating unnecessary regulation, promoting open markets and removing barriers to trade and investment.
The discussion may also touch upon transatlantic relations in general at Portuguese request. The Government support their view that the EU and US have common interests and challenges that must be addressed together, though we caution against attempts to dwell on or exaggerate past disagreements as counterproductive to this aim.