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Written Ministerial Statements

Wednesday 18 January 2012

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Foreign Affairs Council: 23 January - General Affairs Council: 27 January

The Minister for Europe (Mr David Lidington): My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and I will attend the Foreign Affairs Council on 23 January. I will also attend the General Affairs Council on 27 January.

foreign affairs council

The High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Baroness Ashton of Upholland, will chair the Foreign Affairs Council on 23 January.


As agreed at the December 2011 FAC, Ministers should be presented with a package to expand and strengthen EU sanctions against Iran, including an oil embargo and further restrictions on finance, petrochemicals and gold. If agreed, these measures will reflect the degree of EU concern about the continued development of the Iran’s nuclear programme. These robust measures aim to reduce Iran’s ability to fund its nuclear programme and to encourage it to resume serious and meaningful negotiations.


In response to the continuing repression, we are pushing to agree strong conclusions on Syria and a further round of EU sanctions. The UK has proposed an additional list of 21 military and security officials we believe are responsible for the violence against civilians. We are also working with partners to agree further sanctions at the February FAC.


Ministers will discuss recent developments in Burma, including the release last week of a significant number of political prisoners, and how the EU can best support the Burmese Government in continuing on their path of reform. We expect conclusions to be adopted welcoming the recent positive developments; and making it clear that the EU will respond substantively if further progress is made in key areas, including free and fair by-elections on 1 April, and further steps towards resolving the ethnic conflict.

On 13 December the Foreign Secretary said:

“I am delighted to hear that a significant number of political prisoners in Burma have today been released, including 88 Generation and ethnic leaders”.

“The release of all political prisoners is a long-standing demand of the international community and I warmly welcome these releases as a further demonstration of the Burmese Government’s commitment to reform”.

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“This is exactly the kind of measure I called for in all my meetings with Burmese Government leaders last week. So is this week’s much needed ceasefire in the conflict with the Karen people. I hope these positive steps will contribute to greater democratic participation in the upcoming parliamentary by-elections”.

Speaking on 12 January, the Foreign Secretary welcomed the ceasefire between the Burmese Government and Karen National Union:

“I welcome the reports that the Burmese Government and Karen National Union have signed a ceasefire after 63 years of fighting. This is good news for the people of Burma. It has been a long-standing goal of the international community to see a ceasefire, and indeed it was one of the key issues on which I urged the Burmese Government to make progress during my visit last week when I also met with Karen representatives. There is still a long way to go fully to rebuild trust between the parties after so many years of conflict, but this is an important step in the right direction”.


Ministers are likely to receive a report from Baroness Ashton on the talks in Amman between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators, which Quartet representatives also attended.

We also hope to agree conclusions which welcome the direct talks facilitated by the Jordanians as part of the Quartet process; encourage both parties to present comprehensive proposals on territory and security as called for in the Quartet statement; and urge both parties to refrain from actions which might damage the prospects of a two-state solution.


We expect discussions to focus on the completion of elections to the lower House and the first sitting due on 23 January. We will urge EU partners to maintain a high-level of ambition on the EU offer, and to ensure that it is communicated effectively; and to push the Egyptians on the central role that civil society has to play in the transition process. Although there are unlikely to be conclusions at this FAC, we expect there to be some in February reporting on progress on the transition.

Sudan/South Sudan

The discussion is likely to focus on the unresolved issues and tension between the two countries following secession of South Sudan in July 2011. Additionally, Ministers may review the ongoing conflicts and lack of humanitarian access in Southern Kordofan, Blue Nile, Abyei and Darfur, and the recent violence in Jonglei, South Sudan. We expect the adoption of the first formal conclusions since South Sudan’s secession, which we believe should mark the progress that secession represents, while setting out the EU’s concern at the ongoing conflict, human rights abuses and weak governance in both countries.


Baroness Ashton is expected to brief Ministers on progress in the EU-facilitated dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo. A decision on Serbia’s EU candidate status will be taken at the February GAC; so any ensuing discussion at this FAC will probably focus on Serbian progress towards meeting the necessary conditions on Kosovo as specified by the December European Council. We welcome the progress made over the Christmas period, with Serbia and Kosovo implementing the dialogue agreement on freedom of movement. But we believe there is still more for Serbia to do to meet fully the

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European Council’s requirements before the February GAC, particularly on Kosovan representation in regional fora.


We expect Ministers to agree an expansion of the designation criteria for exiting EU sanctions against Belarus. Formal conclusions may also be agreed, and Ministers may discuss the political and human rights situation in Belarus.

Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP)/Horn of Africa

Although CSDP/Horn of Africa is not a formal agenda item, Ministers may be asked to agree conclusions reaffirming their commitment to launch the regional maritime capacity building (RMCB) mission to the Horn of Africa—as agreed by Ministers at the FAC on 1 December. The mission will help to strengthen the counter piracy efforts of local actors. We are keen to see the RMCB make a tangible difference on the ground, and to ensure that the EU Operations Centre best co-ordinates military support to this predominantly civilian mission and ensures coherence with existing EU missions in the region.

Religious Freedom

Although not a formal agenda item, we expect Italy to raise freedom of religion following recent violence against places of worship in Nigeria. On 25 December, the Foreign Secretary said:

“I condemn today’s bomb attacks in or near churches in Nigeria. These are cowardly attacks on families gathered in peace and prayer to celebrate a day which symbolises harmony and goodwill towards others. I offer my condolences to the bereaved and injured”.

general affairs council (gac)

The GAC will be chaired by the new Danish EU presidency.

Before the official programme of the General Affairs Council, Herman van Rompuy will present, over breakfast, the latest situation with the intergovernmental treaty. There are two main items on the GAC agenda in January. The first is the European Council: follow-up to the December Council and preparation for January’s informal Council on growth the following week (30 January).

The conclusions of the December European Council meeting can be found at:


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The second substantive item is the multi-annual financial framework, where there will be a stock-take of progress made in technical working groups. The Danish presidency will explain how they plan to organise this negotiation under their chairmanship.

There will also be an update on recent decisions taken by the European Parliament and a presentation of the Danish presidency’s work plan.

Home Department

Taxi Drivers (Criminal Records Certificates)

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Lynne Featherstone): The Government have received representations from a number of organisations concerning the appropriate level of criminal records checks for licensed taxi and public hire vehicle drivers. At present the legal entitlement for many drivers is for a standard level criminal records check, although the practice has grown up of applying for enhanced level checks across the sector. These checks include any relevant local police information, in addition to a record of previous criminal convictions, cautions and warnings.

Having carefully considered these representations, and consulted representatives of the sector, we have decided that:

All taxi and private hire drivers should be entitled to enhanced criminal records checks; and

Licensing authorities will additionally be entitled to check whether any applicant is barred from work with children or vulnerable adults under the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006.

Taking account of the fact that many drivers are self-employed, criminal records applications may be made through the appropriate licensing authority. The decision on whether to grant a licence will remain a matter for the licensing authority.

This change clarifies the law and regularises practice which has grown up over many years in the taxi sector.

Changes will be made by secondary legislation as soon as practicable.