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13 Nov 2001 : Column WA63

Written Answers

Tuesday, 13th November 2001.

National Convocation of Religious Leaders

Lord Carlile of Berriew asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will take the initiative in calling together a national convocation of religious leaders in an effort to secure greater understanding among congregations of the dangers presented to liberty and religious freedom by the Taliban.[HL1119]

The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Rooker): Religious leaders of all the main world faiths in the United Kingdom have been prominent in their condemnation both of terrorism and the perversion of religious belief by alleged adherents of any faith. If religious leaders believe that a national convocation would strengthen their unequivocal message or their efforts to get their congregations to understand it, it would be for them in the first instance to call such a convocation together. The Government would however readily consider any request to play an active role in the deliberations of a national convocation.

Extradition Arrangements with Ireland

Baroness Goudie asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether there have been any problems in relation to extradition between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland caused by the dual criminality requirement; and[HL1162]

    Whether there have been any problems in relation to extradition between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland caused by the speciality requirement.[HL1163]

Lord Rooker: The United Kingdom's extradition arrangements with Ireland are governed by the Backing of Warrants (Republic of Ireland) Act 1965. In any scheme of extradition there will be heavily contested cases, but we are not aware of specific problems arising from the dual criminality or speciality requirements in any case involving the practical operation of the Act.

Embarkation Control

Lord Marlesford asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the Written Answer by Lord Rooker on 5 November (WA 2), whether they will answer this question using plain English.[HL1211]

Lord Rooker: I have nothing to add to my previous reply of 5 November, but if the noble Lord has a particular point on which he would like clarification he may write to me again.

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Passport Fees

Lord Acton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they will announce new passport fees.[HL1327]

Lord Rooker: The Privy Council has made an Order in Council, the Consular Fees (Amendment) Order 2001, which gives authority for an increase in passport fees in the United Kingdom. The increase will take affect on 14 January 2002. The fee for a standard 32-page passport will increase from £28 to £30 and for a 48-page passport from £38 to £40. The fee for amending an existing passport will increase from £17 to £18. The cost of a passport for a child will increase from £14.80 to £16. The additional charge for those making applications in person in the United Kingdom will increase from £12 to £15. The fee for a collective passport for organised trips for schools and youth groups will increase from £40 to £42.

Two new services will be introduced for 14 January 2002 at passport office public counters. A one-week guaranteed service will cost an additional £15. A same-day premium service will cost an additional £30.

This is the first increase in passport fees for two years. In relation to the cost of travel abroad, a fee of £30 for a standard 10-year passport still represents very good value for money.

Economic Developments

Lord Roberts of Conwy asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is their response to the most recent survey of the consumer confidence barometer, with particular reference to the impact on the survey of recent announcements of redundancies and proposed job losses.[HL1076]

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: A full assessment of UK economic developments will be included in the forthcoming Pre-Budget Report.

Freedom of Information Act 2000: Implementation

Lord Lester of Herne Hill asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they have decided not to bring the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 into force in relation to central government departments until 2005; and, if so, what are their reasons.[HL1045]

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Irvine of Lairg): I have today placed in the Libraries of both Houses a paper setting out the full schedule for the implementation of the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

This timetable delivers tangible benefits to the public within two years of the Act receiving Royal Assent, 11 months before the timetable set out in the

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Act itself, and will give public authorities more time to put into effect the necessary culture change required to deliver these important new rights. This approach also aligns the implementation of the right of access with completion of the Government's project on electronic record management.

General Affairs Council, Luxembourg, 29 October

Baroness Gould of Potternewton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What the outcome was of the General Affairs Council held in Luxembourg on 29 October.[HL1292]

The Minister for Trade (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): Together with my right honourable friends the Foreign Secretary and the Minister for Europe, I represented the UK at the General Affairs Council (GAC) on 29 October.

The GAC adopted the A points listed in document number 13233/01. It also noted the resolutions, decisions and opinions adopted by the European Parliament in its part-session of 19–20 September in Brussels and 1–4 October in Strasbourg listed in document numbers 11049/01 and 12365/01 respectively. Copies of all three documents have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses. WTO

The GAC discussed preparations for the WTO Ministerial Conference, due to be held in Doha, Qatar from 9–13 November and agreed conclusions setting out the EU's position for this meeting. The Council conclusions of 26 October 1999 remained the basis for EU efforts to launch a new global round of multilateral trade negotiations, but the Council acknowledged that the final stages of negotiations would call for flexibility on the part of all participants. The Council emphasised the importance of the development dimension, highlighting the need for greater efforts to enhance the negotiating capacity of developing countries, and underlined the importance of the flexibilities of the TRIPS agreement in ensuring poor people in developing countries have affordable access to medicines.

The Council welcomed the European Parliament's resolution of 24 October 2001 on preparations for Doha and stressed the importance of dialogue with civil society, particularly with social partners, on trade issues. Work in other Sectoral Councils

The Presidency drew attention to the Secretariat's stocktaking report of the main issues being discussed by other sectoral meetings of the Council of Ministers In particular, the Presidency noted the road-map on implementation of a sustainable development strategy approved by the Gothenburg European Council, looking ahead to the Barcelona European Council on 15–16 March 2002 and the World Summit on

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Sustainable Development in Johannesburg on 2–11 September 2002. MEPs' Statute

The GAC approved Presidency proposals, focusing on fiscal/tax issues, allowances and pensions, as a basis for further discussions with the European Parliament. Funding of European Political Parties

The GAC discussed the draft regulation to establish a temporary, two-year regime for the statute and funding of European political parties. Discussion focused on issues including the regulating of donations and the transnationality threshold for qualification as a "European" political party. The Presidency asked Coreper to discuss the issues further. EU political priorities for 2002

The GAC endorsed a UK initiative for the GAC to co-ordinate the EU's overall strategic priorities through annual discussions. Spain, as the future Presidency, will schedule a further debate early next year. MEPP

The Council issued a declaration on the 10th anniversary of the Madrid Conference. It called on the Israelis and Palestinians, immediately and without pre-conditions, to return to negotiations on the basis of the recommendations in the Mitchell Report and Tenet Plan. It called upon the Israeli authorities to withdraw their troops immediately from the zone that is exclusively under Palestinian administration (Zone A). It called upon the Palestinian authority to do its utmost to arrest those responsible for acts of violence against Israel. Africa

The GAC agreed Conclusions on:

(i) Zimbabwe

The Council reiterated the EU's readiness to help Zimbabwe hold transparent and fair presidential elections next spring, including through an exploratory mission and EU observers to monitor them.

The GAC decided to launch the consultation procedure with the Government of Zimbabwe provided for in Article 96 of the Cotonou Agreement. The consultations would address the issues of concern as discussed by the GAC on 25 June, on which there had not been any visible progress to date: ending political violence; electoral monitoring; freedom of the media; independence of the judiciary; and ending the illegal occupation of properties.

The EU would give strong weight to ensuring co-ordination and complementarity with the efforts of SADC and the Abuja process.

(ii) DRC (Lusaka Process)

The GAC noted the disappointing results of the inter-Congolese dialogue meeting in Addis Ababa (15–21 October). The EU had honoured its financial commitments to help support the process, which was essential for the future of the DRC and the region as a whole. It called on the facilitator of the dialogue and the Congolese parties to set a time and place for

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substantive talks on the parameters for an inclusive, democratic transition with a realistic timetable.

(iii) Burundi (Arusha process)

The GAC discussed the démarches of facilitator Nelson Mandela to the Presidency and Commission of 15–16 October. President Mandela was seeking EU funding to set up a protection unit to ensure the safety of exiled politicians on their return to Burundi to form the Transitional National Government, starting on 1 November. The GAC agreed the importance of such funding, subject to clear assent of the Burundian parties to the Arusha Agreement, the backing of the UN and precise details concerning the special unit's mandate and budget. the Council instructed its bodies to work with the Commission to examine President Mandela's proposals and report to the next GAC on 19 November.

(iv) Eritrea

The GAC would discuss Eritrea further at its next meeting, following talks between President Isayas Afewerki and the EU Heads of Mission (HoMs) in Asmara. It had agreed on 8 October to recall EU HoMs in Eritrea for consultations, given its concerns over the arrest of political figures, the suppression of the independent press and expulsion of the EU Presidency's Representative to Eritrea.

(v) New Partnership for African Development and the Europe-Africa dialogue.

The Council reiterated its support for the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD). It was briefed by the Presidency and the Commission on the meeting on 10 October with the African heads of state, supporting the NEPAD and on the EU-Africa Ministerial Conference on 11 October 2001. The Council agreed that it would pay particular attention to this significant initiative, above all in the framework of the Europe-Africa dialogue. EU action following US attacks

The GAC noted the good progress made on the counter-terrorism road map agreed at the European Council of 21 September. It tasked the Committee of Permanent Representatives with the oversight and direction of the road map, paying particular attention to the priorities identified by the European Council: a European arrest warrant, a common definition of terrorism and freezing of assets; strengthening co-operation between the relevant authorities responsible for combating terrorism, especially to establish a common list of terrorist organisations before the year-end; the fight against the funding of terrorism; and the approval, without delay, of Commission proposals relating to aviation security.

The GAC also discussed the situation in Afghanistan and the surrounding region. Discussion was informed by reports from the Presidency and Secretary-General/High Representative (SG/HR) Solana about their recent meetings with the UN Secretary-General and his personal representative, Ambassador Brahimi, and with the former King of Afghanistan, Zahir Shah. They also discussed the situation in central Asia on the basis of a paper by the

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SG/HR. The Council welcomed the Troika visit from 30 October to Uzbekistan, Tadjikistan and Turkmenistan. Western Balkans

The GAC adopted Conclusions on:

(i) Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia

It welcomed the progress made on constitutional reform and all parties' commitment to conclude the parliamentary process on the framework agreement rapidly. It repeated that implementation of that agreement by all parties concerned was the only constructive way forward, including in relation to Macedonia's rapprochement with the EU.

(ii) Kosovo

The Council underlined the importance of the elections on 17 November being conducted properly. The GAC repeated the need for a substantial electoral turnout from all communities to ensure their representation in the provisional, new, democratically-elected institutions. It had asked the Belgrade authorities to co-operate closely with UNMIK/KFOR and to encourage the Kosovo Serbs to take part in the election.

(iii) Stability Pact

The GAC welcomed the outcome of the Regional Conference of the Stability Pact in Bucharest which confirmed the EU's commitment to continue playing a leading role in the region, which would be complemented by the continuing role of the Pact. The Council agreed that the EU should review the future role of the Stability Pact in consultation with the other members of the pact, including the possibility of better integrating the work of the pact with the EU's Stabilisation and Association Process for the Western Balkans.

(iv) Croatia

The GAC welcomed the signing of the EU/Croatia Stabilisation and Association Agreement and the EC/Croatia Interim Agreement. It also welcomed the approval of the joint declaration on political dialogue and the holding of the first meeting of that dialogue. Voting Record

No formal votes were taken on the points under discussion at the GAC.

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