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General Affairs Council

Mr. Hood: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what the outcome was of the General Affairs Council held in Brussels on 15 to 16 April; what the Government's stance was on the issues discussed, including its voting record; and if he will make a statement. [50858]

Peter Hain: My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs represented the UK at the General Affairs Council (GAC) in Luxembourg on 15 April. The Council adopted the "A" points listed in document 7057/02. It also noted the resolutions, decisions and opinions adopted by the European Parliament listed in the documents 7059/02, 7060/02 and 7061/02. Copies of these documents will be placed in the Library of the House. No formal votes were taken. Council Conclusions were adopted by consensus. Work in other Council formations The Council noted recent developments in the Transport, Telecommunications and Agriculture Councils. Enlargement The Council welcomed progress made in the accession negotiations. It underlined the importance of establishing EU Common Positions on the remaining chapters in order to keep to the timetable for conclusion of the negotiations. Staff regulations Commission Vice-President Kinnock outlined progress on EU institutional personnel policy reform and reminded the Council of the reform objectives: to introduce a more streamlined career structure, modernise pay and pension systems, and to safeguard ethical and professional standards.

The Council supported the Commission's aims to make its personnel policy more efficient, transparent, accountable and meritocratic and congratulated the Commission on work done so far.

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EU Action Plan on the fight against terrorism The Presidency briefed Partners on progress in implementation of the EU Action Plan. In particular, it focussed on implementation of UNSCR 1373, improving links between police and the judiciary in Member States (including Europol and Eurojust) and co-operation with third countries. Illegal immigration The Council discussed methods of combating illegal immigration including policing sea borders more effectively. This followed presentations by Italy and the Commission. The Council stressed the need for close, effective co-operation with countries of origin. Conclusions on these lines were adopted. It was agreed that the EU should strive to improve the speed and effectiveness of its actions and should implement the measures outlined in the Comprehensive Plan, adopted in February 2002, by harnessing all external relations instruments available in addition to those provided by the immigration policy framework. The Council welcomed the Commission's proposal to convene a high level meeting to address these issues. It highlighted the gravity of the situation, and the human rights violations which resulted from illegal immigration and trafficking in human beings. Wider Europe: relations between the future enlarged EU and its Eastern neighbours At the Presidency's invitation I outlined the case for the EU to consider how it could make more effective its relations with the EU's post-enlargement eastern neighbours, Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova. The need for further thinking on this was widely endorsed. The Commission agreed to come forward with a Communication, in co-operation with the High Representative. The Council welcomed Commission and High Representative plans to contribute to the debate on strengthening relations during the second half of 2002. India/ Pakistan At UK request, the Council discussed the continuing India-Pakistan tensions and expressed concern at sectarian violence in Gujarat. It welcomed the prospect of early visits to the region by the High Representative, Javier Solana, and Commissioner Patten. EU/ Switzerland relations The Council welcomed the Commission's adoption of draft positions on the outstanding negotiating mandates for sectoral agreements between the EU and Switzerland and called for them to be finalised as swiftly as possible. The Council urged the Swiss authorities to make progress quickly in negotiations on combating fraud and called on the Presidency and Commission to pursue these aims also at senior levels. European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) The Council reaffirmed its commitment to overcoming outstanding issues on EU-NATO co-operation, including "Berlin-plus". It also debated the possibility of a future EU operation in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Middle East Ministers discussed at length the latest diplomatic efforts to achieve a cease-fire and withdrawal of Israeli troops from Palestinian-controlled areas. Ministers reiterated their support for the US Secretary of State's mission to the region.

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Western Balkans Commissioner Patten presented the first annual report on the Stabilisation and Association Process for South East Europe.

The Council adopted Conclusions welcoming the Commission's presentation of this work and covering the countries of the region. In particular, the Council was encouraged by the willingness of the Serbian and Montenegran parliaments to restructure their bilateral relations and to draft a new constitutional charter by June this year. The EU offered its assistance to aid these objectives. The Council welcomed progress toward concluding a Stabilisation and Association Agreement, but noted that continuing co-operation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) remained crucial to Serbia and Montenegro's EU aspirations. Bosnia and Herzegovina The Council welcomed agreement reached by Bosnia and Herzegovina political leaders on the Constitutional Court decision on constituent peoples and called for urgent adoption of the amendments in full compliance with the agreement.

The Council also requested full and prompt compliance by the Bosnian authorities with the remaining elements of the road map, in the context of the Stabilisation and Association Process. It also asked authorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina to co-operate fully with the International Criminal Tribunal. Right of return The Council requested governments across the region to step up efforts to allow for the return of displaced persons. EU relations with Central American and Andean community countries The Council agreed with the Commission's intention to submit a proposal for negotiating directives, aimed at deepening the bilateral relationships between the EU and these regions through the conclusion of political dialogue and co-operation agreements. Euro-Mediterranean Partnership The Council endorsed the Presidency's proposals for EU positions for the Valencia Euro-Mediterranean conference of 22–23 April. Afghanistan Ministers met Afghan Foreign Minister, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah briefly at the GAC.

The Council reiterated that international assistance to Afghanistan should be based on territorial integrity and be conditional on implementation of the Bonn agreement objectives (peace, representational governance, elimination of terrorism and of drug production/ trafficking). The EU emphasised the necessity of conducting the Emergency Loya Jirga selection process in political neutrality. Zimbabwe The Council expressed deep concern at reports of continuing state-sanctioned violence against opposition supporters and condemned continuing widespread human rights abuse.

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The Council agreed to impose a moratorium on bilateral ministerial level contacts with Zimbabwe until further notice, exempting political dialogue intended to promote democracy, human rights and the rule of law. It awaits with interest the report from the Troika visit to the SADC region and signs of a clear commitment by the Government of Zimbabwe to ending political violence, respecting basic democratic norms, and engaging quickly and constructively in efforts at national reconciliation.


James Purnell: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if Zimbabwe was discussed during the EU General Affairs Council on 15 April. [51811]

Mr. Straw: On 15 April, the EU General Affairs Council imposed a moratorium on bilateral ministerial level contacts with Zimbabwe until further notice, except for the conduct of political dialogue intended to promote democracy, human rights, and the rule of law in Zimbabwe, and on issues relating to regional security or for addressing humanitarian needs. The Council decided to defer consideration of additional targeted measures against the Government of Zimbabwe until its next meeting in May. An EU Troika will visit Southern Africa soon, to discuss the situation in Zimbabwe with SADC countries (not Zimbabwe itself).

We have made clear that the people of Zimbabwe have been denied their fundamental right to choose by whom they are governed. We support efforts by South Africa and Nigeria to facilitate dialogue between ZANU(PF) and MDC, to try to restore democracy and the rule of law in Zimbabwe. We remain in continuous contact with our EU, US, Commonwealth and SADC partners.


Ministerial Private Offices

Mr. Bercow: To ask the Solicitor-General what the running costs were of (a) her Ministers' private offices, separately identifying expenditure on staff and (b) her Department in each year from May 1997 to the nearest date for which the information is available. [41034]

The Solicitor-General: Of the Departments for which the Attorney General is responsible, only my own Department, the Legal Secretariat to the Law Officers, has a small private office of four staff which serves both the Attorney General and me. The cost of running the private office cannot be separated from the cost of running the Department as a whole and so the figures provided below relate only to part (b) of the question. The figures provided below include staff costs.

Legal Secretariat to the Law Officers


Treasury Solicitor's Department

(including Government Property Lawyers)

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Crown Prosecution Service


Serious Fraud Office


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