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Doha Development Round

Commissioner for Trade, Peter Mandelson, is expected to brief the Council on the latest negotiations in the Doha development round. The Council is expected to discuss next steps, including work to be taken forward by the chairs of the groups on agriculture and non-agricultural market access. The Government want an ambitious, pro-development outcome to the Doha development round and support the role of the Commission.

Ukraine

The Council will be briefed by the presidency on preparations for the EU-Ukraine summit on 14 September. The Council is also expected to endorse a note, which the Government fully support, setting out the EU's objectives for the summit, which include taking stock of developments in the EU-Ukraine relationship, and discussing the ongoing process of reform in Ukraine.

Sudan/Darfur

We expect discussion at the Council to focus on options for EU engagement in Darfur and the region, including a range of areas in which the EU could support wider international efforts to resolve the Darfur crisis. The Government welcome these options, which set out ways in which the EU can support the political process in Darfur, improvements in the humanitarian and security situations, as well as effective African Union and UN peacekeeping in the region.

The Government will emphasise the importance of keeping the focus on the long-term economic future, development and reconstruction of Darfur and Sudan as a whole. The international community, including the EU, must provide the necessary planning and support to make this happen.

The Council is also expected to discuss a French proposal for an EU military operation in Chad. The UK has long supported, including through UN Security Council Resolution 1706, the need for an international operation in eastern Chad. An effective military force would be an important contribution to the regional strategy and the Government therefore welcome the French proposal.

Libya

External Relations Commissioner, Benita Fererro-Waldner, is expected to update the Council on progress in the case of the Bulgarian and Palestinian medical staff imprisoned in Libya.



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Iran

The high representative for the common foreign and security policy, Javier Solana, is expected to brief the Council on his recent discussions with Ali Larijani, Iran's chief nuclear negotiator and secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, as part of the EU's agreed twin-track approach. The Government welcome steps by Iran to resolve outstanding technical issues with the International Atomic Energy Agency, but our position remains firm on the need to see full suspension, before suspension of UN sanctions can be considered.

Middle East

The Council is expected to adopt conclusions on the Middle East emphasising support for Abbas and Fayyad's Government. The Council is likely to discuss support for building the capacity of Palestinian institutions and economic development, a position the Government support as an essential part of achieving success in political negotiations.

On Lebanon, the Council is expected to adopt conclusions condemning the bomb attack on the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) on 23 June in which six peacekeepers were killed, and reiterating the need to implement UN Security Council Resolutions 1559, 1701 and 1757. The conclusions also welcome the meeting held by France to build confidence between the main parties and help work towards a reconciliation of the political crisis in Lebanon.

Western Balkans

Discussion is likely to focus on Kosovo. The Government will want to ensure EU resolve in seeing former President Ahtisaari's proposals through to a successful conclusion.

Russia

The Government will brief the Council on latest developments in the Litvinenko case.

Zimbabwe

The Government will raise Zimbabwe to highlight the need for continued EU engagement in response to the deteriorating situation.

Resolution 1562 of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly

The Dutch have asked to discuss rendition, following a recent Council of Europe report.

Firearms: Taser

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord West of Spithead): My honourable friend the Minister of State for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing (Tony McNulty) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

Taser has been available to all authorised firearms officers since September 2004 as a less lethal alternative for use in situations where a firearms authority has been granted in accordance with criteria laid down in the Association of Chief Police Officers manual of guidance on police use of firearms.

I am giving my approval from 20 July 2007 for chief officers throughout England and Wales to

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deploy Taser for use by authorised firearms officers in operations or incidents where the criteria for the authorisation to issue firearms does not apply, but where officers are facing violence or threats of violence of such severity that they would need to use force to protect the public, themselves and/or the subject(s) of their action.

I am also approving a 12-month trial of the deployment of Taser by specially trained units who are not firearms officers in similarly violent circumstances requiring conflict management. The trial, commencing on 1 September 2007, will be undertaken in the following 10 forces: Avon and Somerset, Devon and Cornwall, Gwent, Lincolnshire, Merseyside, Metropolitan Police Service, Northamptonshire, Northumbria, North Wales and West Yorkshire.

ACPO has produced new policy and operational guidance documents for both the extension and the trial. The Defence Scientific Advisory Council (DSAC) sub-committee on the medical implications of less lethal weapons (DOMILL) was invited to provide a fourth statement on the medical implications of the use of Taser taking into account the new ACPO policy and guidance. The DOMILL statement confirms that the risk of death or serious injury from Taser remains low.

All Taser deployments will continue to be monitored and a detailed report of every deployment will be produced. These reports will be collated by the Home Office scientific development branch and summarised on a three-monthly basis for assessment by DOMILL.

I have placed a copy of the DOMILL statement in the Library of the House.

Immigration: Screening Postgraduate Students

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Malloch-Brown): My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (David Miliband) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The voluntary vetting scheme (VVS) is an arrangement designed to prevent states of proliferation concern using the UK as a training ground for their scientists and engineers. It is administered by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and seeks co-operation from universities in identifying postgraduate applicants of proliferation concern. The Government assess the proliferation risk and inform the university, which then decides whether or not to offer a place to the applicant.

As the proliferation threat has evolved, we have looked again at whether there is room to improve the scheme. In particular, and as recommended by the Foreign Affairs Committee (FAC), we have looked at the scope to make it compulsory, so that we catch a greater proportion of students of potential concern. We have also looked to shift the emphasis from universities to government, where both feel it properly belongs.

Proposed Changes

In essence, the student section of the Immigration Rules contains a requirement for certain postgraduate students to have prior counter-proliferation clearance

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in order to qualify for a visa. The proposed new scheme—the academic technology approval scheme (ATAS)—requires all non-EEA students in the designated categories to apply for counter-proliferation (CP) clearance. Details of the disciplines affected by these provisions will appear in the rules. There is also a requirement to obtain CP clearance when students wish to extend their stay in the UK (eg when moving from undergraduate studies to a postgraduate programme that is covered by the provisions of the new scheme). Clearance (in the form of a certificate) will be obtained through the FCO, using an easy-to-use, online form, and we aim to process the vast majority of applications within 10 working days. A separate clearance certificate will be required for each separate institution or programme of study.

We estimate that the ATAS will substantially increase the proportion of students of potential concern who are subject to scrutiny. At the same time, we would tighten the scheme considerably by assessing predominantly PhD and Masters by research students, rather than all postgraduate students of potential concern, as was the case under the VVS. However, we would still wish to assess the small number of students wishing to undertake taught Masters studies in physics, mechanical engineering, aerospace engineering or materials technology, due to potential CP concerns. This allows us to target the areas of greatest concern more efficiently and in a manner proportionate to the threat. It is in line with the Government's publicly stated CP policy and is a useful reaffirmation of our commitment. The academic community has also been extensively consulted and is supportive of the new scheme.

Timing

We anticipate implementing a voluntary go-live date for the scheme on Monday 3 September 2007. From this date onwards we will be seeking volunteers from higher education institutions (HEIs) to advise their students to apply for ATAS clearance. However, it will not be a mandatory requirement under the Immigration Rules at this point and we will continue operating the VVS during this transition period. Assuming no problems are found, we would have a mandatory go-live date of 1 November 2007 with a corresponding amendment to the Immigration Rules. This date has been decided after consultation with the UK academic community and allows it to deal with its busiest time for new arrivals—ie September and October—without having to produce amended offer letters to meet the ATAS requirements.

Iraq: Roulement

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence & Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (Lord Drayson): My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence (Des Browne) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The next routine roulement of UK forces in Iraq will take place in November/December 2007. The force package that we currently plan to deploy to Iraq during this roulement will see the lead formation, currently 1 Mechanised Brigade, replaced by 4 Mechanised

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Brigade, which will provide the majority of UK forces from 1 December 2007. The units deploying as part of 4 Mechanised Brigade are as follows:

4th Mechanised Brigade Headquarters and 204 Signal Squadron

The Royal Dragoon Guards

1st Battalion Scots Guards

The Royal Scots Borders, 1st Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland

1st Battalion The Duke of Lancaster's Regiment (King's, Lancashire and Border)

1st Battalion The 22nd (Cheshire) Regiment (1st Battalion The Mercian Regiment as of 1 September 07)

21 Engineer Regiment

12 Logistic Support Regiment, The Royal Logistic Corps

1 Close Support Medical Regiment

Elements of 845 Naval Air Squadron (Sea King)

Elements of 847 Naval Air Squadron (Lynx)

D Battery, 3rd Regiment Royal Horse Artillery

K Battery, 5th Regiment Royal Artillery

Elements of 33 Engineer Regiment (Explosive Ordnance Disposal)

62 Works Group Royal Engineers, 523 Specialist Team Royal Engineers (Works)

Elements of 3rd (UK) Division Signal Regiment, The Royal Corps of Signals

Elements of 1st (UK) Armoured Division Signal Regiment, The Royal Corps of Signals

Elements of 10th Signal Regiment, The Royal Corps of Signals

Elements of 14th Signal Regiment (Electronic Warfare), The Royal Corps of Signals

Elements of 21st Signal Regiment (Air Support), The Royal Corps of Signals

Elements of 6 Supply Regiment, The Royal Logistic Corps

Elements of 16 Tank Transporter Squadron, 7 Transport Regiment, The Royal Logistic Corps

Elements of 11 Explosive Ordnance Disposal Regiment, The Royal Logistic Corps

Elements of 84 Medical Supply Squadron, 9 Supply Regiment, The Royal Logistic Corps

Elements of 150 Transport Regiment (Volunteers), The Royal Logistic Corps

Elements of 24 Postal, Courier and Movement Regiment, The Royal Logistic Corps

Elements of 29 Postal, Courier and Movement Regiment, The Royal Logistic Corps

Elements of 148 Expeditionary Forces Institute Squadron (Volunteers), The Royal Logistic Corps

Elements of 1 Battalion Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers

115 Provost Company, 1st Provost Regiment, Royal Military Police

Elements of 102 Military Working Dog Support Unit, Royal Army Veterinary Corps

Elements of 1 Military Intelligence Brigade

No 28 (AC) Squadron, Royal Air Force (Merlin)

619 Tactical Air Control Party, Royal Air Force

627 Tactical Air Control Party, Royal Air Force

Members of the Reserve Forces will continue to deploy to Iraq as part of this force package, and we expect to issue around 420 call-out notices to fill approximately 340 posts. Most will deploy to theatre in November and serve on operations for six to seven months, although some may have shorter tours. As part of this commitment, we expect up to 10 members of the sponsored reserves to be in theatre at any one time.

In February, the then Prime Minister set out our plans for Iraq in 2007, centring on changes to the posture of UK forces in Basra in multinational

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division-south east (MND-SE) and consequent force level reductions. UK forces have transferred control of a number of bases in and around Basra to the 10th division of the Iraqi Army. We expect to complete the final part of these plans, involving the transfer of control of Basra Palace to the Iraqi authorities, before this roulement takes place. As a result UK force levels in Iraq will fall to around 5,000 troops.

The force package we deploy in November/December will depend on conditions on the ground, in particular the security situation in the south and progress on handover of security responsibility to the Iraqi civil authorities in Basra province. We will continue to keep UK force levels in Iraq under review. With the permission of the Speaker, I intend to give an update on operations soon after the Recess and will notify the House then should there be any change to our plans.


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