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Written Statements

Tuesday 21 December 2004

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Biological Weapons Convention

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): Noble Lords will wish to be aware of the outcome of the recent discussions in Geneva on the two subjects set for discussion by states party to the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC) in 2004. States party were mandated to discuss and promote common understanding and effective action on strengthening national and international efforts and existing mechanisms for the surveillance, detection, diagnosis and combating of infectious diseases affecting humans, animals and plants; and on promoting common understanding and effective action on the effects of cases of alleged use of biological or toxin weapons or suspicious outbreaks of disease.

On the concluding day of the meeting of states party to the BTWC, which took place from 6–10 December, there was agreement by consensus on a politically binding report where, inter alia, states party recognised the international aspect of these subjects and their relevance to the object and purpose of the BTWC, and agreed on the value of the following actions:

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The preceeding Meeting of Experts held in Geneva in July had prepared the way for this political decision making. At this earlier meeting, levels of attendance and participation were excellent with 87 states party contributing to international discussion and sharing of expertise on these subjects. For the United Kingdom experts from across Whitehall made nine presentations which were well received.

That so many other states party sent experts from capitals and took an active part is an indication to us that delegations recognised both the importance of the two subjects and also the value of the work programme more generally in contributing to strengthening the BTWC. The success of the July meeting was reinforced at the December meeting of states party where states party in their national statements, welcomed the substantial exchange of information.

The United Kingdom was grateful to the Chair, Mr Peter Goosen of South Africa, for the efforts he made to achieve consensus on a report that reflected the commonality of views and approaches that were demonstrated at the meetings. We believe that this has again demonstrated to the wider arms control community that the intersessional process has value.

The continued success of this process is particularly important to the UK as we look ahead to 2005 and our own chairmanship of the meetings of states party. Ambassador John Freeman, UK Permanent Representative to the Conference on Disarmament, was elected on the final day of this year's meeting as the chair. The subject for consideration will be "the content, promulgation, and adoption of codes of conduct for scientists". UK national preparations for this began in 2003. We have held a series of seminars with representatives of academia, NGOs and industry to seek their views and to assist in developing our ideas for next year. Ambassador Freeman wrote to states party on the final day of the 2004 meeting with some initial thoughts on the work ahead. The UK will continue to work co-operatively both nationally and internationally through 2005.

I will keep the House informed of developments and outcomes in 2005.

EU Code of Conduct on Arms Exports

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: During his oral answer to the right honourable Member for Devizes (Mr Michael Ancram) on 14 December 2004 (Official Report, col. 1515), my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr Jack Straw) said the following.

"Following an initiative by my predecessor, my right honourable friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), we now have a legally enforceable EU code of conduct on arms sales".

We would like to clarify this statement. The Code of Conduct, as incorporated into the Consolidated EU
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and National Arms Export Licensing Criteria, serves as binding statutory guidance to the Government in our assessment of application for strategic export licences under Section 9(5) of the Export Control Act. The Government is therefore required to have regard to the criteria set out in the Code when assessing such applications. Export licensing decisions may be subject to judicial review, including on the basis of failure to have proper regard to such criteria. However, the Code of Conduct is not per se directly legally enforceable before the UK or European courts.

Gypsy Sites and Planning

The Minister of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (Lord Rooker): My right honourable friend the Minister for Housing and Planning has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I am announcing today the publication for consultation of the new planning circular Planning for Gypsy and Traveller Sites. The new circular will replace DoE Circular 1/94 Gypsy Sites and Planning.

The advice in the Circular covers the procedures to be followed in ensuring that the planning system recognises, protects and facilitates the traditional lifestyle of Gypsies and Travellers by identifying and making provision in development plans for their land and accommodation requirements.

It is the Government's intention that the accommodation needs of Gypsy and Traveller communities should be part of the mainstream of the plan led system. The guidance contained in the circular should result in a greater proportion of this need being provided for on sites allocated in development plans, providing greater certainty both for Gypsies and Travellers and local residents and reducing the need for local authorities to enter into lengthy and expensive enforcement actions against unauthorised sites.

The new circular also updates the definition of Gypsies and Travellers to reflect the fact that many stop travelling permanently or temporarily because of health reasons or caring responsibilities but still want to maintain their traditional lifestyle.

The consultation will run until 18 March 2005. Copies of the consultation documents have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses and are available to download from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister's website.

Gypsy Site Refurbishment Grant 2004–05

Lord Rooker: My right honourable friend the Minister for Housing and Planning has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I am today announcing the details of the successful bids under the second round of the Gypsy Site Refurbishment Grant for 2004–05. Under the first
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round, £4.82 million was allocated in April of this year, with a further £2.54 million now being paid in the second round.

The existing network of over 300 local authority authorised sites represents a valuable resource for Gypsies and Travellers. With the aid of this grant, local authorities are able to ensure that Gypsies and Travellers have access to high quality accommodation and that the networks of sites continues to meet the needs of the Gypsy and Traveller community into the future.

The successful bids are:

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