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Written Ministerial Statements

Thursday 14 May 2009

Defence

Deepcut Boards of Inquiry

The Minister for the Armed Forces (Mr. Bob Ainsworth): I am announcing today the findings of the boards of inquiry (BOIs) into the tragic deaths at Deepcut of Privates Gray and Collinson.

The impact of their untimely deaths was felt, not just across the MOD, but across the nation. Our thoughts are with all their families and friends at this difficult time.

The BOIs were delayed due to the other investigations and reviews into the deaths at Deepcut, which had to be completed first. Having convened, they were subsequently reconvened to clarify evidence. We deeply regret the additional distress that the delay to the BOIs has caused to the families of Privates Gray and Collinson.

The next of kin were present at the BOI proceedings and have been presented with copies of the reports.

The board agrees with the coroner’s open verdict in both cases. In the case of Private Collinson, the board concludes that there were no indications in his general behaviour during his time in the Army to suggest that he was at any risk. In the case of Private Gray, the BOI concurs with Blake in concluding that there is no substantial evidence supporting third-party involvement in his death. In addition to covering the specific circumstances surrounding the deaths, each report covers the background to Deepcut from 1993 until the time of the deaths, including such issues as discipline, staff selection, welfare support and guarding arrangements. Both reports also detail the changes that have been made since the deaths to address these issues.

The BOIs make 19 identical recommendations and the Gray BOI makes one further recommendation. The recommendations are wide-ranging and there is considerable overlap with those made in earlier reviews and investigations into the deaths at Deepcut. For this reason all have been addressed and further work has been put in train to ensure that all possible related improvements are made. The recommendations focus on support to bereaved families; the service inquiry process, including tracking the implementation of recommendations; and the need to maintain momentum with continuous improvement in the training environment.

The release of these BOIs does not alter our position on the need for a public inquiry. Given the range of investigations that have now taken place, we do not believe there is any wider public or service interest in pursuing one.

I will arrange for copies of both BOI reports, redacted in accordance with guidance on the Freedom of Information Act and the Data Protection Act, to be placed in the Library of the House. Both documents will also be published on the MOD website at www.foi.mod.uk.


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Foreign and Commonwealth Office

General Affairs and External Relations Council

The Minister for Europe (Caroline Flint): The General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC) will be held on 18 and 19 May in Brussels. My right hon. Friends the Foreign Secretary, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence, Baroness Taylor of Bolton, and my hon. Friend the Minister of State for International Development will represent the UK.

The agenda items are as follows:

General Affairs

Preparation of the 18 and 19 June European Council

EU Foreign Ministers will discuss the presidency’s agenda for the June European Council. The European Council will focus on EU institutional issues and agree Ireland’s guarantees on the Lisbon treaty. The Council will also discuss the economic, financial and social situation and will take first decisions on financial regulation based on the Commission’s proposals on the De Larosiere report, as well as examining progress on the G20 London summit outcomes. There will also be a discussion on climate change funding mechanisms in order to develop an EU position ahead of the UN climate change conference in Copenhagen in December.

The Government support these discussions at the June European Council. We welcome the continued co-ordinated EU response to the economic and financial situation and look forward to the Council discussing credible options for an ambitious climate finance offer.

External Relations

EU-Russia Summit preparations

The Council will discuss preparations for the EU-Russia summit, which is taking place in Khabarovsk on 21 and 22 May. In this context the Council will also discuss EU-Russia relations, taking stock of the state of negotiations on a successor to the EU-Russia Partnership and Co-operation Agreement, and a range of international issues of common interest to the EU and Russia.

At the summit, the EU will reaffirm its commitment to wide-ranging engagement with Russia, which the Government support as being in the UK and EU’s interests. We are willing to pursue active co-operation on important international issues, but also insist that Russia plays a responsible international role, keeping to international commitments it has made, including on Georgia. We will provide Parliament with a full update following the summit.

Moldova

Ministers may discuss Moldova, following their discussion at the April GAERC about the post-election demonstrations and the authorities’ reaction. The Government remain concerned about human rights abuses, and we encourage the Moldovan authorities to allow an independent investigation into the events following the demonstrations. We recognise Moldova’s aspirations of closer integration with the EU, but maintain that this relationship must be based on a firm commitment to human rights as enshrined in the Eastern Partnership.

Iran

Following the April GAERC, which agreed conclusions, this discussion should be an opportunity to broaden the debate and again encourage the EU to consider how it
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can best support US engagement. Member states will look to the Council secretariat to update them on the Iranian response to the E3+3’s invitation to recommence talks as soon as possible—Iran has so far sent no reply.

We will stress the opportunity that the E3+3 offer presents to Iran and the necessity for the EU to give its full backing to the renewed diplomatic efforts and the dual-track strategy, and encourage other member states to express their views on the most effective way forward. We will encourage further discussions on Iran over the coming months in the EU as the diplomatic situation develops.

Georgia

The Council will discuss the current situation in Georgia, including the EU’s continued call for dialogue between the Government and the political opposition following a month of protests in Tbilisi. Ministers are likely to focus on the EU’s current and future engagement with Georgia. The discussion is likely to include issues such as progress on trade agreements, visa facilitation and other elements arising from the Eastern Partnership summit on 7 May, as well as a discussion of the activities of the EU Monitoring Mission in Georgia.

AOB

Sri Lanka

We would support Council conclusions outlining the EU’s serious concern about recent reports of mass civilian casualties in the conflict area. The Government are appalled by these reports; our position is that the fighting must stop, and that the safety and security of those civilians who remain in the conflict area is a priority. The Council is likely to call on the Government of Sri Lanka to allow full and unhindered access for humanitarian agencies to IDPs wherever they are; and to underline the EU’s determination to press the Government of Sri Lanka to make urgent progress on an inclusive political solution to the conflict.

Illegal Migration

There will be a short discussion of illegal migration in the Mediterranean region, at the request of Greece. We expect Ministers to focus on increasing and strengthening co-operation in Europe to tackle the increasing flows of illegal migration. The UK supports this and recognises the particular challenges that are faced by Greece and other Mediterranean countries. We are also keen to further the UK’s bilateral relationship with Greece on migration through the provision of technical advice and assistance.

Joint Session of EU Foreign and Defence Ministers

Bosnia and Herzegovina

The Council is likely to review progress made to date on the five objectives and two conditions (“5+2”) required for the closure of the Office of the High Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), and future prospects for achieving these. The UK will note the lack of progress made since the March meeting of the Peace Implementation Council. We will reaffirm our commitment to the “5+2” needing to be completed before transition to a solely EU special representative-led mission can occur. We also expect Ministers to discuss options for drawdown of EUFOR, the EU’s military mission.


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Somalia/Piracy

Please refer to the EU Defence Ministers section below, which refers to the EU’s counter-piracy operation Atalanta.

EU Defence Ministers

The European Defence Agency Steering Board will meet in the EU Defence Ministers formation on 18 May. Ministers will be presented with the agency’s draft three-year EDA work plan in order to support the setting of a three year financial framework at a GAERC to be held under the Swedish presidency in the second half of 2009.

Ministers will also be given an update on seven European Defence Agency capability projects. This will include the multi-national helicopter initiative (previously the UK-France helicopter initiative) which has raised €27 million towards the cost of upgrading European helicopters and training pilots to deploy to operational theatres. Defence Ministers will reflect on the EUFOR military operation in Chad and the Central African Republic which ended in March 2009. Over lunch, Defence Ministers will talk about the issue of EU co-operation with partners, with a particular focus on productive co-operation with NATO.

In both the joint session of Foreign and Defence Ministers and the separate Defence Ministers session, Ministers will discuss ongoing EU military operations including the next steps for the ALTHEA mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Ministers will also discuss the EU’s counter-piracy operation Atalanta, which is led by a British Rear-Admiral from the multi-national headquarters at Northwood, as it approaches the six-month review point.

EU Development Ministers

The Council will discuss how the EU can support developing countries in coping with the economic crisis. We expect conclusions to set out a series of measures with a particular focus on honouring our existing aid commitments and supporting progress towards the millennium development goals. The conclusions should also outline how the EU will help support the G20 London summit recommendations on development. Other items on the agenda include a discussion of potential areas for EU/US co-operation, a Commission update on the economic partnership agreements; a preliminary discussion on democratic governance, which will be more fully considered under the Swedish presidency; climate financing; and Kenya.

The UK also intends to raise Sri Lanka in the context of EU development policy.

Northern Ireland

The Police Service of Northern Ireland and the Northern Ireland Policing Board

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Paul Goggins): I have today placed copies of the Framework Documents for the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the Northern Ireland Policing Board in the Libraries of both Houses.


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Transport

Maritime and Coastguard Agency (Ministerial Targets)

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Jim Fitzpatrick): I am pleased to announce the broad objectives and specific ministerial targets for the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) for 2009-10.

These are:

Safety ObjectiveThrough accident prevention and effective search and rescue co-ordination and response, improve the safety of ships and people at sea and at the coast.

Performance under this objective will be measured against the following ministerial delivery targets:


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Under this objective the MCA will also continue with their three-year programme of work in the following areas:

Environment ObjectiveThrough our monitoring of ships and response to pollution incidents protect the marine environment.

Performance under this objective will be measured against the following ministerial delivery target:

Under this objective the MCA will continue its three-year programme of work covering:

The agency will also continue to monitor its performance through a range of service standards and measured outcomes which will be reported in its published annual report and accounts.


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