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21 May 2007 : Column WS27

Written Statements

Monday 21 May 2007

Armed Forces: Astute Class Submarines

The Minister 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 today that the MoD has placed an order with BAE Systems to commence work on the build of the fourth submarine in the Astute class, which will be known as “Audacious”.

The Astute class is the next generation of nuclear-powered attack submarines. The first of class, “Astute”, is on schedule to be launched on 8 June 2007, and is due to enter service in 2009. The Astute class will be the largest, most capable and most widely deployable attack submarines that the Royal Navy has ever operated, and will replace the Swiftsure and Trafalgar classes which have been in service since the 1970s and 1980s respectively. The Astute class will have improved communications systems to support joint operations and an enhanced ability to operate in shallower littoral environments. BAES (submarine solutions) is also responsible for the design and build of the first three boats (“Astute”, “Ambush” and “Artful”).

Today's announcement demonstrates our commitment to the attack submarine programme, as set out in the defence industrial strategy. It also demonstrates our commitment to the Royal Navy. These submarines are needed to fulfil duties around the globe. It demonstrates the best of British technology and our determination to develop and transform the UK submarine industry over the coming years.

Disabled Children Review

Lord Davies of Oldham: My honourable friend the Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Ed Balls) has made the following Written Statement.

Budget 2006 announced that the second Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) would be informed by a series of policy reviews. One of the reviews announced at the Budget was a joint HM Treasury and Department for Education and Skills policy review of children and young people. This included a sub-review on how services can provide greater support to families with disabled children to improve their life chances.

The Government are today publishing the final report of the disabled children review, to inform and influence the CSR. In line with the Government's report, Improving the Life Chances of Disabled People, the review has worked towards the best ways of creating equality for all disabled children. Improving their educational, social and emotional development, and their opportunities for independent living, choice and control, is a key part of this process.

The final report, published today, sets out the further action that needs to be taken to improve outcomes and equality of opportunity for disabled children and their families. It aims to facilitate, better support, and improve outcomes for disabled children in the following areas:

empowering disabled children, young people and their families—offering parents and their disabled children choice and the power to take decisions about their own care and influence local priorities, to improve service quality and responsiveness;promoting more responsive services and timely support—prioritising disabled children at a local and national level, with early interventions and co-ordinated and timely support, to bring up standards of provision across the country, make it easier for families to access holistic support, and prevent conditions deteriorating; and improving service quality and capacity—boosting provision of services which are vital for improving outcomes for disabled children and their families. The review focuses mainly on specialist services such as short breaks and equipment, but also tackles barriers to accessing universal services such as healthcare.

Copies of the report are available in the Vote Office and the Library of the House.

EU: General Affairs and External Relations Council

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Triesman): My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary (Margaret Beckett), Sir John Grant (UK Permanent Representative to the EU) and I represented the UK at the General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC) in Brussels. The Minister of State for Defence Equipment and Support (Lord Drayson) attended the Defence Ministers’ discussions on 14 May.

The agenda items covered were as follows:

Foreign Ministers

General Affairs

Preparation of the European Council on 21/22 June

The council took note of the presidency’s draft annotated agenda for the European Council on 21 and 22 June. This covers the constitutional treaty, justice and home affairs and economic and social issues, including strengthening police co-operation and climate change. The European Council is also likely to discuss foreign policy issues, such as the European neighbourhood policy and Central Asia.

External Relations

Black Sea Region

The council discussed the Black Sea region on the basis of a Commission communication. The initiative, which the Government broadly support, gives an overview of EU co-operation with the region, outlines the main challenges and proposes strengthening the EU’s co-operation with regional organisations.

The council adopted conclusions welcoming the Commission’s communication while underlining the importance of continued co-operation with the Black Sea region. The council invited the Commission to carry out a review of the initiative in the first half of 2008.

Preparation of the EU-Russia Summit

The council discussed EU-Russia relations in advance of the summit in Samara on 18 May. Discussion at the summit is expected to cover energy, climate change, human rightsand the investment climate as well as topical regional and international issues.

Uzbekistan

The presidency briefed the council on the EU’s human rights dialogue with Uzbekistan on 8 and 9 May. There was broad support in the council, including from the Government, for the EU to maintain pressure on Uzbekistan to implement its international human rights obligations.

The council agreed a common position extending the EU’s visa ban for a further six months against eight Uzbek officials directly involved in the events at Andizhan in May 2005.

The council adopted conclusions expressing its continued concern about the human rights situation in Uzbekistan and calling on the Uzbek authorities to release detained human rights defenders. The conclusions welcomed the EU’s first round of talks with Uzbekistan on 8 and 9 May and reiterated the EU’s readiness to pursue a regular dialogue with Uzbekistan on human rights issues. The Government support these talks as a means of encouraging Uzbekistan to make concrete progress on human rights concerns.

Sudan

The council discussed the security situation in Darfur and agreed to provide further funding of €40 million for the African Union mission in Sudan from the Africa Peace Facility. In response to a call from the External Relations Commissioner, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, on member states to provide additional financial support to the African Union mission, the Netherlands announced it would be contributing a further €10 million in funding.

Somalia

The presidency briefed the council on the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Somalia and reaffirmed the EU’s support for the African Union mission in Somalia.

The council adopted conclusions expressing continued concern about the situation in Somalia and reiterating the obligation of all parties to comply with international humanitarian law. The conclusions also welcome the talks between the Transitional Federal Government, Ethiopia and the Hawiya leadership committee while recalling the importance of implementing UN Security Council Resolution 1744 to address the political, security and humanitarian challenges faced in Somalia.

Iraq

The presidency briefed the council on the Iraq neighbours conference and the launch of the international compact in Sharm el-Sheikh on 3 and 4 May.

The council adopted conclusions welcoming the conferences in Sharm el-Sheikh and commending the Iraqi Government for the ambitious commitments in the international compact with Iraq to promote political, security, economic and social reforms. These will be key in developing co-operation between Iraq and its international partners.

Middle East Peace Process

The council discussed the Middle East peace process including the Commission’s work on capacity-building support and co-ordination of assistance to the Palestinians, which the Government strongly support.

Ministers exchanged views with representatives from the Arab League in the margins of the council on the Arab peace initiative. The council welcomed the initiative as a contribution to moving the peace process forward and expressed readiness to build on increasing Arab involvement.

Western Balkans

The council discussed the situation in Serbia following an agreement on the formation of a new Government.

The presidency reiterated the EU’s position as set out in the February council conclusions: the restart of stabilisation and association agreement talks with Serbia is conditional upon concrete action by a new Serb Government on co-operation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. The Government fully support this position.

The council adopted conclusions welcoming the results of the stability pact’s regional table meeting and of the South-East European Co-operation Process (SEECP) ministerial and summit meetings, held in Zagreb on 10 and 11 May.

International Moratorium on the Death Penalty

The council discussed EU action on a global moratorium and eventual abolition of the death penalty. The council is expected to return to this issue in June.

Iran

The council discussed relations with Iran following a meeting on 25 April between the High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, Javier Solana, and Ali Larijani, Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council.

Libya

External Relations Commissioner, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, briefed the council on discussions with Libya on the case of the Bulgarian medics.

Joint Session of Foreign Ministers and Defence Ministers

European Security and Defence Policy Mission in Afghanistan

The council discussed the future ESDP mission to Afghanistan. The Government welcome progress towards launching the mission, which will make a significant contribution to stability and development in Afghanistan.

Defence Ministers

Operations

Military aspects of EU/UN Co-operation: The presidency briefed the council on the results of the EU-UN seminar in Berlin in March. The council adopted conclusions expressing the EU’s commitment to further strengthening co-operation with the UN.

Lessons learned from EUFOR RD Congo: The council discussed the lessons learned from EUFOR RD Congo, the EU military mission which provided support to the UN during the 2006 election period in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Government underlined that the national operational headquarters model used by the EU worked, with the operation being run from the German operational headquarters in Potsdam, and made clear that while there was scope for improvement in the ability of the EU military staff to undertake strategic-level planning, this should be on the basis of an analysis of current resources.

The council adopted conclusions, called on the High Representative for the Common and Foreign Security Policy, Javier Solana, to address the shortcomings in the EU military staff’s ability to conduct planning at the strategic level for EU-led operations and to submit a report with recommendations, as appropriate, for consideration by the council at its meeting in November 2007.

Western Balkans: The council discussed planning for the European security and defence policy (ESDP) mission to Kosovo. The Government emphasised the importance of appropriate technical agreements between the ESDP mission and the NATO mission in Kosovo. The council also reviewed the progress in implementing the first phase of the drawdown of EU forces in Bosnia.

African Union Mission in Sudan (Sudan/Darfur): The council discussed EU support in Sudan/Darfur. The Government of Sudan have accepted the second phase of the UN support for the African Union peacekeeping force but they have yet to accept the third phase, a hybrid African Union/UN force. The Government encouraged partners to maintain pressure on President Bashir to accept the deployment of UN forces, and to continue to provide financial support to the African Union mission.

The council adopted conclusions reaffirming support for the African Union mission in Sudan while welcoming the ongoing efforts of the African Union and the UN.

Military Capabilities

The presidency, the High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, Javier Solana, and General Bentegeat, chairman of the EU Military Committee, briefed the council on progress on military capabilities. On the headline goal process to strengthen military capabilities, the Government supported the work being conducted on the progress catalogue, which should identify both shortfalls and any specific areas where there was an excess of military capabilities declared to the EU.

The Government insisted that work on a possible revision of the EU military rapid response concept, based on a tri-presidency (Germany, Portugal, Slovenia) food for thought paper, should respect previous assurances that there would be no move to extend the level of ambition of the European security and defence policy, nor to create new standing forces.

The council welcomed progress in the development of the capability development plan, and noted the single progress report on military capabilities.

European Defence Agency

The council took note of the report submitted by the head of the agency on its activities.

Conclusions were adopted on security sector reform in the Democratic Republic of Congo, on African capabilities for the prevention, management and resolution of conflicts, on human rights and gender, on training activities relevant to ESDP, on upcoming civilian missions and on exercises.

Development Ministers

Aid for Trade and Economic Partnership Agreements

The council adopted conclusions underlining support for the Commission’s ongoing negotiations on the economic partnership agreements. The conclusions, which are broadly in line with the Government’s position paper, maintained support for the Commission’s more flexible approach towards market opening for Africa, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries and maintained duty and quota-free access for all ACP products except for rice and sugar which are subject to transitional periods. The council agreed that the Commission would further evaluate the impact that duty and quota-free access would have on the EU’s banana producers, reverting to the council if necessary. The Government are content that the commitment made to evaluate the impact of the proposal on banana producers involved an explicit commitment not to prejudge the outcome of the negotiations and would further strengthen the evidence base for negotiations.

Complementarity and Division of Labour

The council adopted conclusions on a voluntary code of conduct on complementarity and division of labour which will guide the policy and actions of member states and the Commission, to help improve aid effectiveness. The presidency emphasised the voluntary and flexible nature of the code, stressing the importance of working closely with developing country Governments to ensure implementation was tailored specifically to individual country needs. There was strong agreement among member states on the importance of moving forward with implementation in time for the high-level forum in Accra, Ghana in 2008.

Africa and ACP-EU Co-operation

The presidency briefed the council on preparations for the joint EU-Africa strategy, outlining its confidence that the strategy would be adopted at the Lisbon summit in the latter half of 2007. The council adopted conclusions for a new EU-Africa energy partnership to be adopted at the EU-Africa summit in December 2007. The council approved the agenda and council positions for the EC-ACP Council of Ministers meeting on 25 May. The Commission highlighted the importance of timely ratification by member states of both the revised Cotonou Agreement and the EDF10 Internal Agreement.

Forest Management in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)

Under AOB, Belgium briefed the council on forest management in the DRC, emphasising the importance of this issue both for climate change and poverty reduction and the role that the international community might play in supporting sustainable forest management.

Implementation of the Monterrey Commitments

The council adopted conclusions following a review of the implementation of commitments on financing for development (Monterrey). Ministers discussed the importance of taking forward the implementation of the commitments with the Commission stressing the value of preparing national timetables to achieve official development assistance (ODA) targets. A number of member states referred to new efforts in increasing aid volumes.


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