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EU: General Affairs and External Relations Council

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Triesman): The General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC) will be held on 20 March in Brussels. My right honourable friends the Foreign Secretary (Mr Jack Straw) and the Minister for Europe (Mr Douglas Alexander) will represent the UK.

The agenda items are as follows:

General Affairs

Preparation of the European Council, 23 and 24 March

The council will review the latest set of European Council conclusions focusing on jobs and growth, and Hampton Court follow-up.

Financial Perspective: Inter-Institutional Agreement (IIA)

The council may discuss the new inter-institutional agreement for the 2007–13 financial perspective. The Government's priority on the inter-institutional
 
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agreement is to secure an agreement that fully reflects the deal reached in December by the EU heads of state and government and the President of the European Commission.

External Relations

World Trade Organisation/Doha Development Agenda (WTO/DDA)

Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson will brief the council on progress in the WTO round. This follows the Brazilian state visit to the UK (7–9 March) and the meeting of the G4/G6 (EU, US, Brazil and India, plus Australia and Japan) in London (10–12 March). We expect a short discussion without conclusions.

Western Balkans

The council is expected to have a short discussion focusing on Bosnia and Herzegovina. The council is expected to agree conclusions on Bosnia and Herzegovina, the EU-Western Balkans informal Foreign Ministers meeting held in the margins of the Gymnich on 10 and 11 March and the death of Milosevic. The Government welcome the expected conclusions particularly on Bosnia and Herzegovina which reflect the need for it to fulfil stabilisation and association agreement conditions (legislative and administrative capacity, police and public broadcasting reform and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia) as well as the need for progress on constitutional reform.

Middle East Peace Process

We expect the council to take stock of the developments on the ground following the Israeli seizure of Palestinian militant leader Ahmed Saadat. Discussions may also cover EC assistance to the Palestinian Authority.

Iran

The council will discuss the latest developments on the nuclear file, and may also cover wider EU-Iran relations. The council is expected to adopt conclusions.

Iraq

The council is expected to have a short discussion on the latest developments in the negotiations for government formation in Iraq. The council is also expected to approve the mandate for negotiations on a trade and co-operation agreement to commence once an Iraqi government are in office.

Sudan

The council is expected to have a discussion on the proposed transition of the African Union peace-monitoring mission in Darfur (AMIS) to a UN force, and the ongoing peace talks in Abuja.

The Government welcome the African Union's decision, at its 10 March Peace and Security Council (AU PSC), to reaffirm its support in principle for a
 
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handover of AMIS to the UN, and to extend AMIS's mandate to 30 September. We believe the EU should now press the UN to work towards this date as a deadline for handover.

Lebanon

The presidency has invited Lebanese Prime Minister Siniora to address the council over lunch on the current situation on the ground.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office Services

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Triesman): I am delighted to announce that, on 1 April 2006, FCO Services will become an executive agency of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Mr Christopher Moxey, formerly director of global implementation projects for Financial Network Services, has been appointed as its chief executive.

FCO Services will continue to supply the FCO with a broad range of products and services covering IT, communications, technical and protective security, estate and project management, logistics and purchasing, language translation, interpreting and training, VIP visits and organisation of major conferences both in the UK and overseas. FCO Services will employ approximately 1,200 permanent staff, many of whom are specialists, including about 100 staff serving at FCO missions overseas.

FCO Services' long-term aim is to continue to improve the services it offers and the value for money provided to its principal customer, the FCO, while also broadening its customer base within government and the private sector. FCO Services will continue to improve productivity by streamlining work processes, standardising operating procedures, and improving staff utilisation rates.

FCO Services' key performance targets from its launch will be as follows.

Financial: FCO Services will aim to recover the full cost of its operations including an appropriate allowance for the cost of capital.

Efficiency: FCO Services will continue to improve productivity by streamlining work processes, standardising operating procedures, and improving staff utilisation rates. As a result, the average utilisation rate target will improve by 10 per cent during 2006–07.

Growth in income from wider markets: A major element of FCO Services' strategy is to increase wider market sales to reduce costs to and improve service delivery to government. Its target is to achieve 5 per cent, 5 per cent and 10 per cent cumulative growth in its wider market business over the next three years.

Overall quality measure identified from independent customer survey results: FCO Services aims to monitor improvements in service delivery through feedback from customer surveys. It aims to achieve a customer satisfaction rating of either good or excellent for over 70 per cent of its work.
 
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FCO Services will report to Parliament on its success against these targets through its annual report.

Copies of the framework document will be placed in the Library. A copy will also be available on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website at www.fco.gov.uk.

Intelligence Services Commissioner

The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Amos): I am pleased to announce that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister (Tony Blair) has approved the appointment of the right honourable Sir Peter Gibson as Intelligence Services Commissioner under the terms of Section 59 of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000.

The appointment will commence on 1 April 2006 and will run for three years.

Interception of Communications Commissioner

The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Amos): I am pleased to announce that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister (Tony Blair) has approved the appointment of the right honourable Sir Paul Kennedy as Interception of Communications Commissioner under the terms of Section 57 of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000.

The appointment will commence on 11 April 2006 and will run for three years.

Iraq: Fusilier Gordon Gentle

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

The Army's board of inquiry (BoI) into the death of Fusilier Gordon Gentle in Basra, Iraq, on 28 June 2004 has been presented to his family today. Fusilier Gentle, of C Company, 1st Battalion, the Royal Highland Fusiliers (1 RHF), was killed when the vehicle he was travelling in was attacked with an improvised explosive device (IED) while he performed routine escort duty.

All 12 recommendations made by the board of inquiry have been accepted, and the majority of improvements have already been implemented. The BoI found the following.

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The loss of Fusilier Gentle is devastating for all who knew him, and I extend my deepest sympathies to his family, friends and colleagues. The death of any member of the Armed Forces is a tragedy—the safety of our personnel is and must remain paramount and every possible precaution is taken to protect them.

I have today placed a redacted version of the opinions, findings and recommendations of the board of inquiry in the Library.


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