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Written Ministerial Statements

Monday 7 December 2009


Asset Protection Scheme/Asset Protection Agency

The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Alistair Darling): In my statement to the House, 30 November, I said that I would provide Parliament with full details of the operation of the Asset Protection Scheme by 7 December. I am today placing copies of the legal agreements that have been signed with the Royal Bank of Scotland in the Libraries of both Houses, with redactions only in so far as they are necessary to protect commercial interests. Copies of these agreements will also be placed on HM Treasury's website.

I am placing information on the assets covered by the scheme, drawn from HM Treasury due diligence, into the Libraries of both Houses. This information will also be placed on HM Treasury's website.

In addition, I am today announcing the launch of the Asset Protection Agency (APA), an Executive Agency of HM Treasury. This follows the announcement on 25 September 2009 regarding the appointment of Stephan Wilcke as Chief Executive Officer of the APA.

The APA's role will be to manage the Asset Protection Scheme on behalf of HM Treasury, ensuring compliance with the scheme rules by the participating financial institution.

The overarching objectives of the APA are to run the scheme effectively and to ensure the participant maximises the economic value of the protected assets. Performance targets will be based on provision of timely information, identification of risks, and delivery of remedial action.

The CEO reports to Treasury Ministers and will provide them with any information needed in the course of parliamentary business. The APA will prepare and publish an annual report and accounts each year which will be laid before Parliament.

Treasury Ministers are accountable to Parliament for the work of the APA.

Further information on the role of the APA and relationship with HM Treasury is set out in the APA framework document, copies of which have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses. The document is also accessible via the HM Treasury website: www.hm-treasury.gov.uk

"Putting the Frontline First"

The Chief Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Liam Byrne): Today I am publishing a command paper entitled "Putting the Frontline First". The document is an action plan for delivering better public services for lower cost. The plan has three central actions: driving up public service standards to strengthen the role of citizens and civic society, providing new freedoms for frontline services
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by recasting the relationship between the centre and the front line, and streamlining the centre of Government for sharper delivery.

Copies of the document have been deposited in the Libraries of both Houses.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Cluster Munitions Production (Financing)

The Minister for Europe (Chris Bryant): In December 2008, the UK was among the first signatories to the Convention on Cluster Munitions. It is recognised as one of the most significant disarmament treaties of recent years, prohibiting the use, development, production, stockpiling and transfer of cluster munitions.

To enable the UK to proceed with ratification, the Government have introduced the Cluster Munitions (Prohibitions) Bill in this Parliament. The Bill would legislate for the treaty's prohibitions, establishing criminal offences and penalties for a range of banned actions; notably the use, production or transfer of cluster munitions on UK territory or by UK nationals.

In response to the interest of civil society and parliamentarians, I would like to set out the Government's understanding of how the Bill's prohibitions apply to the financing of cluster munitions production. Under the current provisions of the Bill, which have been modelled upon the definitions and requirements of the convention, the direct financing of cluster munitions would be prohibited. The provision of funds directly contributing to the manufacture of these weapons would therefore become illegal.

The convention does not prohibit so-called indirect financing of cluster munitions. Indirect financing is therefore not within the scope of the Bill's provisions. As such, it would not become illegal to provide funds generally to companies that manufacture a range of goods, including cluster munitions.

However, aware of the humanitarian suffering caused by cluster munitions and the threat they pose to development in post-conflict areas, the Government are keen to see a complete end to cluster munitions. Due to the complex nature of indirect financing, there is a need for thorough consultation to consider the impact of any measures, and to ensure that we develop the most appropriate and effective measures to end indirect financing.

The Government intend to work with the financial sector, non-governmental organisations and other interested parties, to promote a voluntary code of conduct to prevent indirect financing, and if necessary would use their right to initiate legislation. We shall also review public investment guidelines to the same end.

International War Crimes Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia (Serbia)

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (David Miliband): The International War Crimes Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) Chief Prosecutor, Serge Brammertz, delivered his latest report on the ICTY completion strategy to the UN Security Council on 3 December. One of his key judgments
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was his very positive assessment of Serbia's co-operation with the ICTY. The Government warmly welcome this assessment.

The Government have long been among the strongest supporters of the ICTY, and of a clear policy of conditionality underpinning EU integration. It is important that all countries wishing to join the EU show their commitment to the rule of law and fully accept their responsibility to deal with the past, in particular by ensuring that all those indicted for the most serious of crimes face justice. EU member states have made it consistently clear that achieving and maintaining full co-operation with the ICTY is essential for progress towards EU membership.

We have had many discussions with the Serbian authorities about this over recent years. We have not been slow, when we thought they were not doing enough, to make our views known.

When the new Serbian Government took office last year, under President Tadic's leadership, we were encouraged by their public commitment to do everything necessary to conclude this process successfully. We have maintained close contact since then with those responsible for the investigations.

I have previously made clear to this House that our assessment of full co-operation would be based on committed and sustained activity from the Serbian Government, demonstrating 100 per cent. effort and political will in co-operating with ICTY. That co-operation should cover efforts in a wide range of areas including: tackling support networks; meeting requests for documents; allowing access to archives; ensuring protection of witnesses; as well as in locating and transferring the remaining indictees. The Government's assessment is that prosecutor Brammertz's report shows this to be the case.

We congratulate the Serbian authorities on this significant achievement. We are discussing with our EU partners how the EU should recognise this. We will remain in close touch with the authorities in Serbia to underline the importance of maintaining this sustained effort, including to track down and deliver the two remaining ICTY indictees, Ratko Mladic and Goran Hadzic.

General Affairs Council and Foreign Affairs Council

The Minister for Europe (Chris Bryant): The General Affairs Council (GAC) and Foreign Affairs Council (FAC) have replaced the General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC) under the provisions of the Lisbon treaty, which came into force on 1 December 2009. The GAC and FAC will be held on 7 and 8 December in Brussels. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will represent the UK.

The agenda items are as follows:

General Affairs Council

Preparation of the 10 and 11 December European Council

Ministers will discuss the presidency's draft agenda for the December European Council. We welcome the presidency's continued focus on the economic and financial situation. We expect the European Council to take stock of the economic climate. It will review the measures necessary to return the EU economy to sustainable growth, including through ensuring the development of
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co-ordinated exit strategies from the economic stimuli taken forward under the European economic recovery plan. In this context, the European Council will also begin discussions on the future of the Lisbon strategy for jobs and growth. We also expect it to reach agreement on the Commission's proposals for financial supervision and regulation. The European Council will also review the implementation of the EU sustainable development strategy and adopt the EU's new work programme (the "Stockholm programme") setting out priorities for EU co-operation in justice and home affairs from 2010 to 2014.

On external relations, we expect the December European Council to take stock of Iran's response to the offer of negotiations on their nuclear programme and set out a clear, appropriate way forward in line with the dual track strategy of engagement and pressure.


The General Affairs Council will take stock of progress on enlargement and the stabilisation and association process in the Western Balkans, informed by the Commission Communication of 14 October, which set out an enlargement strategy and progress reports for candidates and potential candidates. We believe the Commission Communication to be a fair and balanced assessment. We expect the Council to agree conclusions that reconfirm consensus support for enlargement and recognition that the accession process gives strong encouragement to political and economic reform in the enlargement countries and reinforces peace, democracy and stability in Europe. We also expect the Council to recognise that enlargement countries have been affected, to different degrees, by the global economic recession and reconfirm its commitment to provide support including through the instrument for pre-accession (IPA). We would support conclusions language emphasising that the rule of law, in particular the fight against corruption and organised crime, and the need to build professional civil services remain major challenges that the enlargement countries need to address at an early stage. We also support the Commission's view that bilateral disputes should not be allowed to hold up the accession process.

We expect the Council to review progress in the accession negotiations for Turkey and Croatia. We will support the Council's recognition of the key role Turkey plays in regional security, energy supply, and the promotion of dialogue between civilisations and recent initiatives including addressing the Kurdish issue. However, we will share the Council's disappointment that Turkey has not yet fulfilled its obligation to open its ports to trade with Cyprus under the additional protocol to the association agreement and agree that further efforts are needed to accelerate the pace of Turkey's accession negotiations.

We will support the Council in commending Croatia for progress made but stressing that further efforts are needed to meet accession criteria in order to be able to conclude negotiations in 2010. We will support the Council to reiterate that full cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia remains essential in line with the negotiating framework. We also expect the Council to note that Iceland's application for EU membership is currently being assessed by the Commission. We expect the Council to make a decision on opening negotiations early in 2010 on the basis of the Commission's opinion.

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EU Disaster Management

Ministers will discuss the future of civil protection under the arrangements introduced by the Lisbon treaty. We expect the December European Council to focus on the possibilities afforded by both the solidarity clause and the civil protection article to enable improved disaster management in the EU. The European Council will adopt the Stockholm programme, which stresses the need for an integrated approach to disaster management including prevention, preparedness and response; and foresees further efforts to strengthen and improve the Community's civil protection instruments. We also expect the European Council to adopt conclusions on a Community framework for disaster prevention, which will set out priorities for efforts to reduce vulnerability to catastrophes and their consequences and for which the Government have expressed support.

The Government recognise the primary role of national responsibility in disaster management while acknowledging the importance of solidarity among member states when disasters overwhelm national capabilities.

Trio Programme of the Spanish, Belgian and Hungarian Presidencies

The next trio presidency of the EU will begin on 1 January 2010 with Spain, followed by Belgium and Hungary. Under the Lisbon treaty, they will look to build a stronger, more coherent EU that more effectively works for its citizens and addresses their concerns. Their focus will be on the reinforcement of the social agenda, with strong European leadership in key areas such as recovery from the financial and economic crisis, climate change and energy security.

Foreign Affairs Council

Western Balkans

We expect discussion to focus on Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). Ministers are likely to consider further the future of the EU's military presence (EUFOR Operation Althea) and may receive an update from the presidency on the ongoing EU/US initiative to unblock progress on reforms. The Government believe that EUFOR makes a vital contribution to stability and security in BiH and should therefore only be reconfigured when the time is right. The Government support the EU/US initiative and believe that the conditionality set by the Peace Implementation Council (PIC) must be met before the Office of the High Representative can close and we move to an EU-led presence in BiH.

Ministers may discuss progress in Serbia, following a report to the UN Security Council on 3 December by the Chief Prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY). If this report is sufficiently positive, Ministers may consider whether it is possible to implement Serbia's interim agreement. The Government support implementation of Serbia's interim agreement, on the basis of the significantly improved co-operation with ICTY that Serbia has already demonstrated.

We also expect Ministers to discuss progress by the Western Balkans countries towards eventual EU membership. The Government support the assessments made by the European Commission in its Communication of 14 October and believe that Council conclusions should reaffirm support for the European perspective of the Western Balkan countries. We believe that the countries of the region should make progress towards
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joining the EU on the basis of their progress in meeting the fair and rigorous conditions for membership. In particular, we support the Commission's recent recommendation for Macedonia to open accession negotiations and believe that conclusions should ensure that the country continues to move forward in the enlargement process. The Government also want to see conclusions that demonstrate the EU's ongoing commitment to Kosovo's economic and political development.


Ministers will discuss recent developments and consider, in preparation for the December European Council, whether efforts to engage with Iran have shown any signs of progress. Ministers may also consider next steps in the context of the dual track policy, in order to persuade Iran to enter into meaningful negotiations on the nuclear issue. They will also focus on the human rights situation inside Iran.

Middle East Peace Process

Ministers will discuss developments in the Middle East, including the Israeli announcement of a limited 10-month moratorium on settlement building in the West Bank. The presidency plans conclusions that are likely to reaffirm the EU's commitment to a two state solution and support of US efforts. The UK will be arguing for the EU to make clear its position on the importance of a two-state solution.


Ministers may discuss the latest developments and consider the EU's next steps. The military Government have made no tangible progress towards meeting the long-standing demands of the international community, including the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and all political prisoners and the start of a genuine process of dialogue and national reconciliation. The prospect of elections in 2010 gives such discussion added urgency.


Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Gillian Merron): The Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council met on 30 November and 1 December in Brussels. The Health and Consumer Affairs part of the Council was taken on 1 December. I represented the UK.

At the meeting, the Council was unable to reach agreement on the application of patients' rights in the cross-border healthcare directive. This issue will be discussed further under the Spanish presidency.

Ministers received a progress report from the European Commission and the European Centre for Disease Control. There was also a discussion on lessons learnt from the EU level response to the H1N1 pandemic.

A Council recommendation on smoke-free environments and Council conclusions on alcohol and health, e-Health and innovative incentives for effective antibiotics were adopted. The presidency also provided an update on progress of the proposals in the pharmaceutical package.

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