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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 25 January in Brussels. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and I will represent the UK.
The Spanish presidency will present its programme and priorities. Supporting Europe's economic recovery, in particular through developing the new EU strategy for jobs and growth (EU 2020), will be a high priority for Spain. The presidency will also focus on the international stage, with a number of full EU summits, and preparation for the UN millennium development goals summit in September. We look to Spain to provide continued EU leadership on climate change and implementing the Copenhagen accord. Finally, Spain will focus on the rights of EU citizens by implementing the Stockholm programme on Justice and Home Affairs and continue work on implementing the Lisbon treaty.
We look forward to working with our Spanish colleagues on such a broad agenda and welcome in particular Spain's focus on economic recovery with a low carbon, social agenda at its core. The EU 2020 strategy will be
vital to improving Europe's global competitiveness and we will work to ensure the strategy is ambitious and innovative.
Ministers will discuss recent developments on the nuclear dossier. Ministers may consider the way forward in the context of the dual track policy, in order to persuade Iran to enter into meaningful negotiations. They will also continue to play close attention to the human rights situation inside Iran.
Ministers are likely to consider further the future of EUFOR operation Althea, following a decision at the December FAC to revert to this issue in January. 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. Ministers will also discuss the broader political situation in BiH. The Government will underline the importance of giving strong support to the High Representative/EU Special Representative in BiH. The Government continue to support the EU/US initiative and to believe that the conditionality set by the Peace Implementation Council must be met before the Office of the High Representative can close.
Discussion is likely to focus on the London conference on 28 January and on how to strengthen the EU's engagement in Afghanistan and Pakistan in 2010. This might include restructuring the architecture of the EU contribution in Afghanistan, pushing forward the implementation of the EU action plan for Afghanistan and Pakistan, agreed at the October European Council, and cementing plans for a second EU-Pakistan summit, to be held during the Spanish presidency.
Ministers will discuss the situation in Yemen. In particular they may focus on how to build on the EU's response to date, following on from conclusions at the October GAERC, including the need for urgent political and economic reform to address Yemen's challenges. The UK will also brief on plans for the meeting on Yemen in London on 27 January.
Ministers may discuss the latest developments, including the first round of the presidential elections held on 17 January. We welcome the fact that the elections have taken place under calm conditions and will continue to urge the contenders in the second round to rely on the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) to ensure as trouble-free and conclusive an election as possible. We believe that whoever wins the elections will pursue Ukraine's progress towards European integration. Their challenge will be to make Ukraine's governance work better, which would help European integration proceed more smoothly.
The Prime Minister (Mr. Gordon Brown): In accordance with section 91 of the Police Act 1997, I have agreed to appoint the hon. Sir George Newman as a Surveillance Commissioner from 1 January 2010 to 31 December 2012. He succeeds the right hon. Sir Philip Otton in this role.
I am today launching public consultations for the new InterCity East Coast, Greater Anglia, and Essex Thameside franchises. The formal accreditation process for bidders for Greater Anglia and Essex Thameside also starts today.
Our overall aim for the new franchises is to continue the existing operations and make improvements based on emerging value for money and affordability requirements.
The InterCity East Coast franchise will build on the new east coast main line timetable that is being introduced in May 2011 to take advantage of planned infrastructure enhancements to enable extra trains to run, to accelerate journey times and to introduce a standard interval clockface timetable. Further major service improvements are proposed from 2016 when super express trains will be introduced, providing more capacity, more frequent trains and shorter journey times. Franchisees will also be asked for proposals to improve the overall passenger experience, including better stations, improved catering and simpler ticketing.
Passengers on the Greater Anglia franchise are set to benefit from longer trains, enhancements at stations, more security and other service improvements. The new franchise operator will have to consider quicker journey times between Norwich and London,
improving the performance and reliability of long distance services and introducing minimum catering standards on InterCity trains. They will also set national passenger survey targets for trains, stations and customer service with a requirement to invest more to make improvements in those areas if they fail to meet those targets.
Passengers on the Essex Thameside franchise will benefit from longer trains and better security. The new operator will be expected to provide better service information for passengers and improved facilities at stations, including more secure cycle spaces and additional car parking facilities. They will also be required to monitor service quality and ensure stations and trains are cleaned and maintained to a high standard.
The new Greater Anglia franchise will begin operation on Friday 1 April 2011, Essex Thameside on Sunday 29 May 2011 and InterCity East Coast in autumn 2011. All three franchises are proposed to last for a franchise term of at least 10 years with provisions made to allow the termination of the contracts earlier if the franchise fails to deliver good quality service to passengers. The franchise length may also be extended dependent on proposals to deliver investment and significant passenger benefit. Any such proposals would have to offer good value for money to the taxpayer.
The consultation documents set out the main challenges that the new franchises will face and highlights the key requirements that the Department currently proposes to include within each invitation to tender (ITT). They set out proposals to increase peak capacity and improve security, access to stations and overall service quality.
Responses to the consultations will inform the development of the invitation to tender that bidders for each franchise will be asked to bid against. We expect to publish the ITT for both Greater Anglia and Essex Thameside in summer 2010 and will award these franchises in late 2010 and early 2011. The ITT for InterCity East Coast will be published in autumn 2010. The franchise will be awarded in summer 2011.
Over the coming weeks the Department will be having extensive discussions with local interested stakeholders, via a series of stakeholder meetings.
All three consultations will run until the 19 April 2010. Copies of the consultation documents, as well as the recently published discussion paper on general franchise policy have been placed in the House Library and are available on the Department for Transport website.