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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 council may discuss the new inter-institutional agreement for the 200713 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.
Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson will brief the council on progress in the WTO round. This follows the Brazilian state visit to the UK (79 March) and the meeting of the G4/G6 (EU, US, Brazil and India, plus Australia and Japan) in London (1012 March). We expect a short discussion without conclusions.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 200607.
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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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 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 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.
That the training provided by 1 RHF, both prior to deployment and in theatre, was appropriate and sufficient for its tasks. In the opinion of the board, the battalion should be commended for the quality of its training and conduct of operations.
That Fusilier Gentle was wearing the appropriate body armour, which was penetrated by fragments from the IED. It was accepted that full protection from a close-quarter explosion cannot realistically be provided by lightweight body armour. The BoI recommended, however, that body armour should be enhanced with extensions to protect the neck and armpit area. Body armour with these modifications has since been made available to British troops.
That electronic counter measure (ECM) equipment was fitted and working correctly, but was ineffective against the device detonated. Additional ECM equipment was available but had not yet been fitted. The board recommended that where units were tasked with collecting equipment for issue, a series of triggers must be implemented to prompt the supply chain to ensure that such equipment is collected promptly. Significant modifications to the supply chain in theatre have since been instigated.
That the use of snatch Land Rovers was appropriate to the threat and task. Although it did not prevent the grievous injuries to Fusilier Gentle, it prevented significant further injury to other personnel in the vehicle. The vehicle was, however, penetrated in a number of places and investigations into increasing protection in certain areas should be carried out and options for greater protection for top cover sentries explored. The Ministry of Defence is currently addressing this with a project to upgrade the current snatch fleet.
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 tragedythe safety of our personnel is and must remain paramount and every possible precaution is taken to protect them.
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