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Written Answers

Monday, 15th June 1998.

General Affairs Council, 8-9 June

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What was the outcome of the General Affairs Council held in Luxembourg on 8-9 June.[HL2235]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): See below. GENERAL AFFAIRS COUNCIL: 8-9 JUNE 1998

1. At the General Affairs Council in Luxembourg on 8-9 June, the Council took note of the EP resolutions, decisions and opinions adopted in its part-session in Strasbourg from 11-15 May, and listed in Document 8459/98, copies of which will be placed in the House Library as soon as they become available. The Council adopted the A points in Document 9125/98, with the exception of point 14, which had previously been agreed by the Committee of Permanent Representatives on 3 June. A copy of this document will also be placed in the House Library.

2. We provided a draft progress report on Agenda 2000 negotiations. Foreign Ministers agreed this should go to the Cardiff European Council as a basis for discussion. Some emphasised key national concerns.

3. The Presidency set out its programme for the Cardiff European Council.

4. The Council had a detailed discussion of the deteriorating situation in Kosovo. A declaration was agreed sending a firm message (including on the possibility of Chapter VII action in the UN Security Council) that the escalation in violence and reported ethnic cleansing would not be tolerated. A Common Position was also adopted banning new investments in Serbia, with agreement to adopt a regulation on a freeze of funds belonging to the FRY and Serbian Governments as soon as possible.

5. Separately, the Council approved a Joint Action providing financial support for the mission of the EU Special Representative to the FRY, Mr. Felipe Gonzalez. The Council also welcomed the results of the recent parliamentary elections in Montenegro and agreed to consider ways to provide further assistance to Montenegro.

6. The Council agreed an EU declaration on Bosnia, and to the establishment of a Consultative Task Force. Both are aimed at fostering peace and economic regeneration by helping Bosnia in its efforts toward a closer relationship with Europe. Ministers also held a working lunch with Bosnian Foreign Minister Prlic and Deputy Foreign Ministers Zivalj and Bozanic, representing all three ethnic communities in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

7. The Council agreed that the ad hoc meeting of Euro-Mediterranean Foreign Ministers in Palermo on

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3-4 June had revitalised the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership. It noted that this should provide a good foundation for a successful third Euro-Mediterranean Ministerial Conference in Stuttgart in April 1999.

8. The Council had a brief discussion of Iran. Ministers welcomed the positive report of the first exploratory meeting of the EU/Iran dialogue held in Brussels on 19 May and reaffirmed their interest in resuming substantive and comprehensive talks soon.

9. The Council issued a declaration on the nuclear tests by India and Pakistan condemning the tests; calling upon the leaders of India and Pakistan to engage urgently in dialogue on regional stability issues, including with China, and to agree confidence building measures to reduce tension; and urging India and Pakistan to take early steps to adhere to international non-proliferation regimes, including signing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. The Council agreed that it would take all necessary measures if India and Pakistan fail to comply. Member states agreed to review the advisability of IFI lending to Pakistan. The Council asked the Commission to extend its review of India's GSP preference to Pakistan, and withdraw its earlier request to the Commission to expedite signature of an EC/Pakistan trade and co-operation agreement.

10. The Council discussed the provisions for future trade arrangements between the EU and the 71 African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) states. Discussions will continue in Coreper with a view to reaching agreement on the EU's negotiating mandate at the General Affairs Council on 29 June.

11. The Council welcomed political reforms announced by President Habibie of Indonesia and called for the release of remaining political prisoners. It looked forward to early rescheduling of the visit to East Timor by EU Troika Heads of Mission in Jakarta, and called for renewed commitment to the UN sponsored talks on East Timor.

12. The Council expressed its dismay at the hostilities between Ethiopia and Eritrea, and called on both sides to cease hostilities immediately and to resume peaceful negotiations. The EU stood ready to offer assistance to this effect.

13. The inaugural Co-operation Council under the terms of the Partnership and Co-operation Agreement (PCA) between the EU and Ukraine took place in the margins of the GAC on 8-9 June. Over dinner on 8 June, Ministers had a useful exchange of views on foreign policy issues of mutual interest and EU/Ukraine relations in general. On 9 June, the Council discussed the implementation of the PCA and adopted the Rules of Procedure establishing the foundations for the future work of the Co-operation Council and committee as well as the Joint Work Programme for 1998-99.

14. The ninth Council of the European Economic Area (EEA) took place on 9 June. The Council noted with satisfaction the continued expansion of the EEA agreement to include more of the EC acquis and discussed the impact EU enlargement would have for the EEA. A political dialogue was held after the main Council session.

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Sierra Leone: Mercenary Forces

Lord Kennet asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What part, if any, the United States has played, or is playing, in the funding and use of mercenary forces, whether British or otherwise, in Sierra Leone.[HL2046]

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: Her Majesty's Government are not aware of the United States playing any part in the funding or use of mercenary forces in Sierra Leone.

Lord Kennet asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What part GCHQ has played in support of mercenary forces in Sierra Leone.[HL2047]

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: None.

Crown Exemption from Non-domestic Rates

Lord Monkswell asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they intend to abolish the crown exemption from non-domestic rates.[HL2266]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Baroness Hayman): The Local Government and Rating Act 1997 made provision to end the Crown

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exemption from non-domestic rates in England, Wales and Scotland. We have decided to bring these provisions into force with effect from 1 April 2000. From that date, Crown property will be subject to non-domestic rates in the same way as property occupied by other ratepayers. We will make orders to commence the relevant parts of the 1997 Act in due course.

It has been government policy since the late nineteenth century that property occupied for the public service, including government departments, should make contributions in lieu of rates on the same basis as if they were rateable. Abolishing Crown exemption will give this policy a legal foundation and bring the Crown into line with other ratepayers.

A.3 Kingston By-pass: Road Accident Casualties

Lord Brabazon of Tara asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many road accident casualties there have been on the A.3 Kingston by-pass between the junctions with the A.308 and the A.309 in the 12 months to 31 May 1997 and the 12 months to 31 May 1998.[HL2129]

Baroness Hayman: The information requested is shown in the following table. Figures are not available for April and May 1998.

Road accident casualties on the A.3 Kingston by-pass between junctions A.308 and the A.309 in the 12 months to 31 March 1997 and the 12 months to 31 March 1998(1)


(1) 1998 figures are provisional.

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Special Areas of Conservation: UK Proposals

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they will announce the submission of further areas to the European Commission as candidate Special Areas of Conservation.[HL2265]

Baroness Hayman: A further list of UK proposals was sent to the European Commission on 12 June. This consists of 14 new candidate Special Areas of Conservation, boundary extensions to eight existing sites already submitted to the Commission as candidate

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SACs and the addition to further qualifying interests on one candidate SAC. We are pleased to be able to reaffirm the UK's commitment to the Natura 2000 process by announcing the submission of this further list of sites during the UK Presidency.

The list of proposals sent to the Commission is as follows

New sites
Clints QuarryEngland
River Derwent and Bassenthwaite LakeEngland
Mottey MeadowsEngland
Burnham BeechesEngland
Denby Grange Colliery PondsEngland
Craven Limestone ComplexEngland
Ingleborough ComplexEngland
Isle of Portland to Studland CliffsEngland
Peak District Dales WoodlandsEngland
East Devon Pebblebed HeathsEngland
River Wye/Afon GwyEngland/Wales
River Teifi/Afon TeifiWales
Boundary changes to existing sites
Peak District DalesEngland
The BroadsEngland
The New ForestEngland
Essex EstuariesEngland
Fal and HelfordEngland
Plymouth Sound and EstuariesEngland
Morecambe BayEngland
Solway MossesEngland
Changes to the interest of existing site within existing boundaries
Tulach Hill and Glen Fender MeadowsScotland

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