At this Council the Austrian presidency will be seeking Council conclusions on several items. First, the thematic strategy on air quality which sets out the Commission's vision for EU policy on air pollution up to 2020 was the first of the thematic strategies, required under the EU's sixth environmental action programme, to be published. Following publication last year the UK presidency held a debate at the December Environment Council. These Council conclusions welcome the Commission's Strategy and the underpinning analysis, and agree that further action is required to combat air pollution in the EU.
The conclusions in preparation for the eighth conference of the parties to the convention on biological diversity will seek to secure better protection of biodiversity in marine areas beyond national jurisdiction. The COP will consider, among other things, access to genetic resources and sharing of benefits from their use. The Council will also seek to agree conclusions for the third conference of the parties serving as the meeting of the parties to the Cartagena protocol on biosafety, in particular on detailed documentary requirements for the identification of GMOs in bulk agricultural shipments.
For the follow-up to the eleventh conference of the parties to the United Nations framework convention on climate change, in conjunction with the first session of the conference of the parties serving as the Meeting of the parties to the Kyoto protocol (in Montreal in December 2005), the UK supports the conclusions, which prepare the way for the first discussions in May about the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol and a more general global effort to tackle climate change.
For the second conference of the parties to the Stockholm convention on persistent organic pollutants, the conclusions cover the intention to include new substances within the convention and set out the EU position on compliance mechanisms, technical issues relating to, among other things, sound waste management, and enhancing co-operation with other United Nations environment programmes such as the Basel, Rotterdam, Vienna and Stockholm conventions. The UK supports the current text.
The Environment Council will also be asked to adopt conclusions on the preparations for the spring European Council. The UK supports the emphasis in the draft conclusions on the important contribution of
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environment policy to growth and employment and supports the current text, subject to satisfactory resolution of detailed drafting.
The presidency has also called for four policy debates. For the debate on the proposed Euro V directive, Council will be asked whether the new Euro V Regulation proposed by the Commission should provide a longer-term perspective and therefore already include a second stage of significantly lower NOx emission limits.
There will be a policy debate on the EU sustainable development strategy (EU SDS), focusing on the ambition and scope of the strategy. The UK supports the Austrian presidency's aim of a single coherent strategy which focuses on delivery, and aims to be at least as ambitious as the current position. The EU SDS will also be debated in several other Council formations.
There will also be a progress report from the presidency on the proposal for a directive on the assessment and management of floods, which the Austrian presidency has been pushing forward rapidly in working group, with a view to reaching political agreement at Council in June.
Under "Any Other Business", water scarcity and biodegradable waste have both been raised by other member states, and the presidency will update Ministers on biofuels, on EU conferences on "Greening Events" and "Environmentally-Friendly Travelling in Europe", and also the outcome of the first international conference on chemicals management held in Dubai in February.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Ben Bradshaw): I have previously made it clear that I sympathise with the view that performances by some wild animals in travelling circuses are not compatible with meeting their welfare needs. The Animal Welfare Bill will itself represent a significant step forward: Clause 8 imposes a requirement that someone responsible for an animal, such as a circus proprietor, should meet its reasonable welfare needs.
But having listened carefully to the arguments of hon. Members of this House at Second Reading and during Standing Committee I am not convinced that by itself this element of the Animal Welfare Bill will provide sufficient clarity to circus proprietors and enforcers on what is permitted and what is not. To provide this clarity I intend to use a regulation under clause 10 of the Animal Welfare Bill to ban the use in travelling circuses of certain non-domesticated species whose welfare needs cannot be satisfactorily met in that environment. In drawing up proposals for secondary legislation we intend to ensure a clear read-across between zoo licensing standards and those standards that we will require from permanent circus premises. Individuals or organisations who train performing animals will be subject to inspection. This will be in addition to existing
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proposals that we introduce a code of practice for circuses and performing animals to deal with other issues such as training activities, trainer competences and accommodation needs for animals when travelling.
The ban will apply to travelling circuses onlyzoo performances, performances in the audio-visual industry and performances in static circuses will not be affected. Discussions will start shortly with industry, welfare organisations and other Government Departments on the content of draft regulations, which will then go to public consultation.
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw): Dr. Rod Pullen has been appointed as UK Special Representative at the Inter-Sudanese Peace Talks on Darfur. He took up his position on 6 March. This appointment is a further indication of our commitment on this issue. It is in addition to that of Dr Alan Goulty, HMA Tunis, who will also continue as the UK's Special Representative for Darfur. He will continue to focus primarily on pushing the parties and on getting key regional players (especially Eritrea and Libya) and international players on side. He will also continue to visit Sudan as necessary, in consultation with HMA Khartoum. We also expect him to pay occasional visits to the Abuja talks, in consultation with Rod Pullen, if there is a particular requirement.
The Darfur peace talks are held under African Union (AU) mediation. The UK is a key international partner to the talks, and has maintained an observer at the talks in support of the AU since the beginning. However in response to the unacceptably slow progress made by the parties the UK has decided to appoint Dr Pullen, a senior grade diplomat, our former High Commissioner to Ghana and our former Ambassador to Zimbabwe, as the UK's Special Representative. This appointment signals the UK's commitment to a peace agreement and to work with all parties to the talks, in support of the AU mediation, to help push the parties towards a comprehensive and viable agreement.
I expressed the UK's concern about the slow pace of progress when he addressed the talks on 14 February, and called upon the parties to increase momentum. I called on the movement's leaders to demonstrate their commitment to peace by attending the talks. I also announced that the UK had pledged a package of £1 million to the African Union in support of the talks.
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw):
In a written statement in response to a question by my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Mr. Gordon Prentice) on 28 November 2005, Official Report, column 165W, I said that I hoped to make an announcement soon on my examination of the relevant diplomatic service regulations with a view to making changes to ensure that they more accurately
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reflect the overall purpose of the regulations and conventions concerning publications by serving and former officials.
I have now approved a revised version of diplomatic service regulation five which governs the use of official information or experience, and associated guidance. The new version brings the regulations into line with the civil service management code and has been brought to the attention of all FCO staff. The main changes are:
In addition, all contracts of employment and letters issued on retirement or resignation now explicitly draw attention to the rules on publication and the duty of confidentiality. This will be systematically re-drawn to the attention of staff at key points in their career. Staff are also required to sign an undertaking which states that they have read, understood and agree to be bound by the rules on publication. David Warren, the director of human resources, has already written to all senior FCO officials to explain the revised requirements.
The regulations will be subject to regular review and revision in line with any future changes to the civil service management code. I shall of course also take into account any relevant recommendations from the Public Administration Select Committee when it reports on this issue.
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