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Armed Forces: Skynet 5

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Drayson): My right honourable friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces (Adam Ingram) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I am pleased to announce that we have been able to agree to a change to the already successful Skynet 5 PFI deal, to enable a revised risk mitigation approach to be adopted.

Rather than relying on space insurance to cover satellite loss in an unpredictable insurance market, as under the original deal the revised approach is built upon increasing the in-orbit constellation. Instead of two satellites in orbit, there will now be three satellites, with a part-built fourth satellite available as a back-up to a satellite loss throughout the satellite launch phase, which ends in late 2008. The MoD requirement will continue to amount to two satellites, which means that an in-orbit spare will be available; delay in building a replacement satellite in the event of a loss would therefore be avoided. Continuous operational capability can therefore be maintained.

This innovative approach to risk management is fully consistent with the aims of smart acquisition and it shows how a PFI deal can evolve over time, to continue to provide our Armed Forces with the best available capability at the right price.

Asian Tsunami

The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Amos): My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Gareth Thomas) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I am placing in the Libraries of both Houses a copy of a discussion paper, The EU's contribution to the international response to the 2004 Asian Tsunami: Achievements, next steps and lessons learned.

The paper has been written by the Department for International Development and the European Commission to inform discussions at a high-level meeting in Brussels on 20 December 2005. The meeting will examine the international humanitarian and reconstruction response to the 26 December 2004 south-east Asian tsunami, with a particular focus on the EU.

Invited participants include the European Commissioners for Humanitarian Aid and External Relations, representatives of the Council of Ministers, Members of the European Parliament, countries affected by the disaster, the United Nations, international financial institutions, the International Federation of the Red Cross and civil society organisations.

The paper examines EU activity in three main areas: financial assistance for humanitarian and reconstruction needs; support for peace-building via reconstruction work; and reinforcing preventive measures,
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early warning and disaster preparedness. The paper highlights a number of issues that continue to influence the effectiveness of aid delivery. These include conflict sensitivity, co-ordination, monitoring, accountability, local ownership, communication, strengthening the humanitarian system, ensuring funds continue to flow, equity in distribution and early warning and disaster preparedness.

The aim of the meeting is to identify lessons learned from the EU's response that could guide the international community's response in the tsunami-affected countries and in other disaster-affected countries in the future.

Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Triesman): States party to the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC) met in Geneva, 5 to 9 December. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss and promote common understanding and effective action on the content, adoption and promulgation of codes of conduct for scientists.

The states party to the BTWC agreed by consensus a politically binding report where, inter alia, states party stressed the need to undertake activities at the national and international levels and recognised the following:

Further, states party recognised that all those with a responsibility for, or legitimate interest in, codes of
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conduct should be involved in their development, promulgation and adoption and agreed on the value of codes of conduct applying not just to scientists but to all those involved in scientific activity, including managers and technical and ancillary staff.

On the content of codes of conduct, recognising the principles listed above, states party agreed on the importance of codes of conduct being:

On the adoption of codes of conduct, recognising that it is important to build on and co-ordinate with existing efforts and avoid imposing burdensome and duplicative measures, the states party agreed on the value of:

On the promulgation of codes of conduct, recognising that codes of conduct will be most effective if they, and the principles underlying them, are widely known and understood, the states party agreed on the value of continuous efforts on promulgation through appropriate channels.

States party were also encouraged to inform the Sixth Review Conference in 2006 of any actions, measures or other steps that they have taken on the basis of the discussions on codes of conduct to facilitate the conference's consideration of the work.

The preceding meeting of experts held in Geneva in June 2005 had prepared the way for this political decision-making. At this earlier meeting, levels of attendance and participation were excellent, with 82 states party contributing to international discussion and sharing of expertise on codes of conduct for scientists. States party were also able to benefit from the input, expertise, and experience of a number of international and non-governmental organisations and science stakeholders. A multi-agency delegation represented the United Kingdom. Sir David King, Chief Scientific Adviser, made a well received presentation on his code of ethics for government scientists, which is currently being piloted across government. UK officials also made four presentations on different aspects of the subject.
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Ambassador John Freeman, on behalf of the United Kingdom, led the international work on this subject in 2005 and chaired both the meeting of states party and the meeting of experts. I am sure members will join me in expressing appreciation for the work and efforts of Ambassador Freeman to achieve consensus on a report that reflected the large measure of agreement that exists on the subject under discussion. Moreover, the level of active participation and engagement over the past three years of the current work programme is an indication to us that states party recognise both the importance of the selected subjects and also the value of the work programme more generally in contributing to strengthening the convention.

At the meeting of states party, delegations also agreed the dates for a preparatory committee to the Sixth Review Conference of the Convention in 2006. The preparatory committee will be held in Geneva from 26 to 28 April 2006. The Sixth Review Conference will be held in Geneva, from 20 November to 8 December 2006, with the precise dates to be confirmed by the preparatory committee.

The UK is one of the three depositaries to the convention and will continue to work co-operatively, both nationally and internationally, through 2006 in preparation for a successful conclusion to the Sixth Review Conference.

I will keep the House informed of developments and outcomes in 2006.

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