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Written Ministerial Statements

Wednesday 26 October 2011

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Environment Council

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mrs Caroline Spelman): My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change and I represented the UK at the Environment Council in Luxembourg on 10 October. Stewart Stevenson, Scottish Minister for Environment and Climate Change, also joined the delegation.

Following lengthy debate, the Council adopted conclusions on preparations for the 17th session of the conference of the parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the seventh session of the meeting of the parties to the Kyoto protocol in Durban. The text signals the EU’s continued openness to a second commitment period of the Kyoto protocol as part of a transition to a wider legally binding framework, and sets out the EU’s negotiating position on the range of other issues in the negotiations.

Ministers also adopted conclusions setting out the EU’s high-level position ahead of the Rio plus 20 conference next year. These send a clear political signal that the EU wants the conference to be a success. I emphasised the need for Ministers to focus on the EU’s strategic objectives for Rio plus 20 and the need for the conference to produce concrete outcomes in order to move us towards a genuine “green economy”.

Recently I attended the Delhi ministerial meeting on Rio plus 20. There was broad consensus that delegations have little appetite for simply agreeing a long-winded communiqué at Rio—they want action and implementation. The main outcomes of the Delhi meeting were: widespread agreement on the need for specific measures to make the transition to a greener global economy; recognition of the strong links between climate change, biodiversity and poverty reduction, and their importance for growth; agreement on the need to strengthen international environmental governance; and considerable interest in the Colombian proposal for sustainable development goals. Food security and sustainable agriculture, energy security and energy access, and resource efficiency were all identified as key themes for the Rio plus 20 summit.

The Environment Council also adopted conclusions on the review of the sixth environment action programme (EAP) and looking forward to the seventh. In this context, the Commission presented its road map towards a resource-efficient Europe, making it clear that they saw this as a comprehensive issue, covering much of the Commission’s work on environment, climate and energy. Both issues were discussed by Ministers over lunch, with several Ministers emphasising the need to focus on implementation of existing legislation rather than new initiatives in developing a future framework.

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The Council adopted conclusions and a Council decision setting out the position of the EU and its member states ahead of the 10th meeting of the conference of the parties to the Basel convention on the control of trans-boundary movements of hazardous wastes and their disposal which will, among other things, discuss the mechanism for entry into force of the “ban amendment”.

The Aviation Emissions Trading Scheme was discussed under other business: the Commission encouraged member states to defend vigorously the legislation and counter some of the misunderstanding evident among others. The Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change agreed with their approach and reiterated the UK’s full support for the directive.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

General Affairs Council

The Minister for Europe (Mr David Lidington): I attended an extraordinary meeting of the General Affairs Council (GAC) on 22 October in Brussels.

The GAC was chaired by the Polish EU presidency (Mikolaj Dowgielewicz, State Secretary for European Affairs). A draft record of the meeting can be found at:

http://www.consilium.europa.eu/uedocs/cms_data/docs/pressdata/EN/genaff/125491.pdf

Ministers reviewed preparations for the October European Council, the outcome of which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister reported to Parliament on 24 October.

Additionally, Ministers agreed new general arrangements for the delivery of EU statements in multilateral organisations. The document setting out these arrangements can be found at:

http://register.consilium.europa.eu/pdf/en/11/st15/st15901.en11.pdf

I have written to the chairs of the Scrutiny and Select Committees to provide further detail on this agreement. I have placed in the Libraries of both Houses copies of the general arrangements and the text of a UK statement for the minute.

I will also continue to update Parliament on General Affairs Councils.

Council of Europe (UK Chairmanship)

The Minister for Europe (Mr David Lidington): On 7 November, the UK takes over from Ukraine the chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe. The chairmanship is a rare opportunity for the UK to play a leading role in the vital work of the Council of Europe in promoting rights, democracy and rule of law across the continent.

The Council of Europe is dedicated to the protection and promotion of human rights, the rule of law and democracy across 47 countries and 800 million citizens. The UK was a founder member in 1949, and the first country to ratify the European convention on human rights (ECHR), the Council of Europe’s best-known

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instrument, two years later. The ECHR was developed in post-war Europe to try to offer people basic protections from tyranny—such as the right to life, freedom from torture and freedom of speech. These rights are still fundamentally important today.

Yesterday I met Thorbjørn Jagland, Secretary-General of the Council of Europe, to discuss the UK’s chairmanship priorities. I am pleased to say that he supports fully our proposals. Each incoming chairmanship issues a priorities document shortly before their tenure begins. I have now done so and have placed a copy in the Library of the House.

The overarching theme of our chairmanship will be the protection and promotion of human rights. The Government have repeatedly made it clear that human rights are central to their foreign policy. We aim to be an example of a society that upholds human rights and democracy, and we are committed to strengthening the rules-based international system.

First and foremost, we will drive forwards the ongoing programme of reform of the European Court of Human Rights. The Court is an essential part of the system for protecting human rights across Europe. But it is struggling with its huge, growing backlog of applications—now over 155,000. At times it has been too ready to substitute its own judgment for that of national courts and Parliaments. This situation undermines the Court’s authority and effectiveness.

Concrete measures to improve the Court’s efficiency are urgently required. Moreover, it should be focusing on areas where the convention is not being properly applied or there is a need at European level for authoritative guidance on the correct interpretation of the convention. Where member states are applying the convention effectively, the Court should intervene less.

With the joint leadership of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Justice, under our chairmanship we will seek agreement to a package of reforms which would: help deal with the Court’s backlog; support better implementation of the convention at national level; introduce new rules or procedures to help ensure that the Court plays a subsidiary role where member states are fulfilling their obligations under the convention; and help to ensure the best possible procedures for selecting judges to the Court and promote consistency of judgments.

Reform requires the agreement of all 47 member states. We will accord the highest political priority to securing consensus to the necessary reforms by means of a political declaration at the end of our chairmanship. This declaration will set out the agreements we have reached on the reforms to be implemented, including—where necessary—by amendments to the procedural sections of the convention.

In addition, I have assured the Secretary-General that the UK will actively support his programme of reforms of the Council of Europe. We will work towards implementation of measures which will help to deliver more focused, streamlined and effective organisation and a more efficient budget.

The UK chairmanship will also give priority to a range of initiatives where we believe the Council of Europe can help to advance the UK’s foreign policy objectives:

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we will promote an open internet, not only in terms of access and content but also freedom of expression. This is an important policy priority for the UK and one of the issues being addressed at the cyber conference being hosted in London by the Foreign Secretary on 1 November. We will support the adoption of the draft Council of Europe strategy on internet governance, and the implementation of the principles it has adopted to uphold freedom of expression on the internet, to ensure that all member states live up to their international obligations in this area;

we will work to combat discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity across Europe. The Government are committed to using their relationship with other countries to push for unequivocal support for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, including advocating for changes to discriminatory practices and laws that criminalise homosexuality in other countries. The Council of Europe has adopted recommendations on this issue and conducted a study on the situation in member states. We will work with the secretariat and our partners in the Committee of Ministers to improve all member states’ performance in this area;

we will work towards a more effective and efficient role for the Council of Europe in supporting local and regional democracy. The Council of Europe has a significant programme of activities in this area, including monitoring and sharing of expertise, which the UK supports but wants to see streamlined and more carefully targeted;

we will support the strengthening of the rule of law in the member states. We will work towards practical recommendations in this area, in co-operation with our partners in the Committee of Ministers, the secretariat and the Council of Europe’s advisory body on constitutional matters the European Commission for Democracy through Law (the Venice Commission).

UNSCR 1325: Women, Peace and Security

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr Henry Bellingham): I wish to inform the House that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, together with the Ministry of Defence and the Department for International Development, is today publishing an annual review of the UK Government National Action Plan on UNSCR 1325: Women, Peace and Security.

This Government published a revised national action plan (NAP) on UNSCR 1325: Women, Peace and Security on 25 November 2010 and the annual review focuses on the commitments that the Government have taken forward since that time.

We are grateful to the Associate Parliamentary Group on Women, Peace and Security (APG WPS) and the civil society umbrella organisation Gender Action on Peace and Security (GAPS) for the regular and ongoing consultations that take place about the NAP. Officials will attend a meeting with the associate parliamentary group and GAPS on 31 October to discuss this review.

This Government intend to produce a revised NAP at the start of 2012 taking into account the recommendations we receive from APG WPS and GAPS. A full evaluation of the NAP is scheduled to take place in 2013.

I have deposited a copy of the annual review in the Libraries of both Houses. It is also available on the FCO website at www.fco.gov.uk.

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Home Department

Justice and Home Affairs Council

The Minister for Immigration (Damian Green): The Justice and Home Affairs Council is due to be held on the 27 and 28 October in Luxembourg. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Justice, the Scottish Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland and I will attend on behalf of the United Kingdom. As the provisional agenda stands, the following items will be discussed.

The Council will begin in Mixed Committee with Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland (non-EU Schengen states). There will be an update on the Commission-led project to implement the central element of the second generation Schengen Information System (SIS II); the UK will continue to reiterate its support for the continuation of the current SIS II project.

Next the Commission will give an update on the roll-out of the central Visa Information System (VIS). The UK is not bound by the VIS regulation because it does not participate in the common visa element of the Schengen acquis.

The Commission will present and invite an exchange of views on whether member states can support the legislative instrument amending Regulation (EC) No. 1931/2006 as regards the inclusion of the Kaliningrad area and certain Polish administrative districts in the eligible border area. The UK is not bound by this regulation since it relates to that part of the Schengen agreement in which the UK does not participate.

There will be a presentation by the Commission on their communication on smart borders. The communication addresses options, implications and possible ways forward in developing both a European entry/exit system and a registered traveller programme (brought together under the heading of smart borders). The initiatives will rely on developing technologies to expedite border crossings for regular travellers while maintaining the security and the integrity of border controls. They aim to include technical infrastructure issues, data protection aspects and the costs incurred in developing and operating both systems, which are aimed at third-country nationals crossing the Schengen external borders. The UK is excluded from both the measures since it does not participate in the common visa element of the Schengen acquis.

There will also be the signature of the mobility partnership between the EU and Armenia by those member states who will participate in this partnership. The UK has no plans to participate and will not take part in the signing of the partnership.

The main Council will start with a state-of-play discussion on the progress of the dossiers forming the second phase of the Common European Asylum System (CEAS). This has been a regular item at recent JHA Councils as the deadline for agreeing the dossiers in 2012 approaches. The UK does not support a common asylum system involving further legislative harmonisation, but we do support practical action to secure effective asylum systems, including returns. While we do not believe that further legislation setting common standards is the way to

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achieve this, we will work with member states to make sure any new legislation is as practical as possible and can be implemented on the ground.

There will be state-of-play discussions on two directives presented by the presidency. The first concerns a single application procedure for a single permit for non-EU member nationals to reside and work in a member state and on a common set of rights for non-EU member workers legally residing in a member state. The second deals with minimum standards for the qualification and status of third-country nationals or stateless persons as beneficiaries of international protection and the content of the protection granted. Both of these directives have reached agreement in principle within the Council; however, there is an outstanding issue of correlation tables that needs to be resolved with the European Parliament. The UK has not opted in to either of these instruments.

There will be a progress report on Greece’s national action plan on asylum reform and migration management. The UK will take the opportunity to acknowledge the improvements that have taken place while putting pressure on Greece to step up the pace of reform and to tackle its unacceptable detention facilities for asylum seekers.

There will then be a presentation by the Commission and a first exchange of views on the Commission communication on the integration of third-country nationals, which was published on 20 July. There are no immediate legal or legislative implications; integration strategies are a matter of national competence and the communication acknowledges this. The communication is broadly in line with the UK’s views on integration: we welcome the emphasis on a flexible approach including action at local and national level, acquisition of language skills and recognition that integration is a two-way process (migrant and host country).

Over lunch we expect Ministers will discuss an Austrian-Hungarian joint paper on illegal migration and visa liberalisation, with a particular focus on the western Balkans. Discussion will also include illegal immigration via the southern Mediterranean, and in particular current developments in Libya and Tunisia, requested by Italy. The UK will raise the need to tackle abuse of free movement, including sham marriages.

The Commission will also present its communication “Towards a stronger European response to drugs” and there will be a discussion on the draft European pact against synthetic drugs. The presidency will look to agree the draft text of the pact. The UK welcomes the priority that the presidency has given to this important issue and approves of the draft text in the pact. The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) will also present its 2011 annual report on the state of the drug problems in Europe.

There will be an orientation debate on options for a European Terrorist Finance Tracking System (TFTS) on the basis of a Commission communication which was published in July. This meets a commitment to the European Parliament to consider the feasibility of an EU system following the adoption last year of the EU-US Terrorist Finance Tracking Programme (TFTP). The Government’s view is that the necessity of an EU system has not yet been demonstrated. There are also important questions around legal base, operational requirements and costs that are yet to be adequately answered. As such the Government do not believe they can choose between any of the available options at this

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stage. The UK will make clear that no decision can be taken on a way forward without first seeing a full impact assessment of each of the options (including the option of maintaining the status quo). This assessment must address the questions about necessity of an EU system; about the technical, legal and operational issues involved; and about the likely high costs.

The Commission will be presenting its communication on co-operation in the area of the JHA within the eastern partnership (EaP). The communication sets out proposals on how to strengthen JHA co-operation with the EaP countries, and the UK endorses the pragmatic focus on the consolidation and streamlining of existing frameworks. Promoting EU engagement with the EaP remains a priority for the Polish presidency, and the UK recognises the importance of offering continued support to the EU’s neighbours. There has been broad support for the communication so far and a general consensus that new structures are not required. The presidency is expected to prepare draft Council conclusions after an exchange of views at the Council.

Finally, the presidency will make a presentation on the state of play of the negotiations for an EU-US data protection agreement. The Council agreed a negotiating mandate at the 2010 December Council.

The justice day will begin with the Commission presenting its newly published regulation on a EU common sales law. This issue was discussed in general terms at the

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informal JHA Council on 19 July and this will be an opportunity for the Commission to explain its proposed action. Over lunch there will be a further discussion of some aspects of sales law.

There will then be a discussion regarding the draft directive on the right of access to a lawyer in criminal proceedings and on the right to communicate upon arrest. This is the third proposal on the EU’s criminal procedural rights road map which sets minimum standards for the rights of the defence. This measure was presented at the September JHA Council when the UK informed the Council that it had not opted in to this directive.

Next, there will be an orientation debate on the draft directive on establishing minimum standards on the rights, support and protection of victims of crime. The UK has opted in to this draft directive.

The presidency will also provide a state-of-play update on the draft directive on combating the sexual abuse, sexual exploitation of children and child pornography. A general approach was reached on this proposal at the JHA Council in December 2010.

Finally, under non-legislative activities, there is an item regarding judicial training. A Commission communication was published in September and the Commission made a presentation at the last Council meeting. It is expected that the Council will be asked to agree the draft Council conclusions on the Commission’s communication.