The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Justine Greening): The Government have today responded to the Treasury Select Committee report on the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR). Copies are available in the Vote Office and the Library. The Government are grateful to the Committee for its assistance in establishing the OBR and the legislation that is now before the House reflects many of the Committee's recommendations.
The Minister for the Armed Forces (Nick Harvey): In March my predecessor announced the intention of the previous Government to set up a dedicated Iraq historic allegations team (IHAT) to investigate allegations of abuse of Iraqi citizens by British service personnel that have been brought to the Ministry of Defence's attention. The Government have endorsed the continuation of this approach, and we are determined to ensure that these allegations are investigated thoroughly and as quickly as possible.
I would like to inform the House that the IHAT now has a full investigative capability and has commenced work. The team is led by a retired senior civilian policeman and consists of military and ex-civilian police detectives who will ensure that each allegation is appropriately investigated. Given the volume of allegations and the complexity of investigating the events in question, we anticipate that it will take around two years to complete the work of the IHAT.
There are those who argue that the Government should hold a public inquiry into these unproven allegations now-we disagree. A costly public inquiry would be unable to investigate individual criminal behaviour or impose punishments. Any such inquiry would arguably therefore not be in the best interests of the individual complainants who have raised these allegations.
Nevertheless, the Secretary of State for Defence has not ruled out holding a public inquiry at some point in the future, should serious and systemic issues emerge from IHAT's investigations that might justify it.
The establishment of the IHAT should not be taken as an admission of fault or failure. These allegations are as yet unproven, but their existence is corrosive to both the morale and reputation of our armed forces. We owe it to them, and the complainants, to investigate properly these allegations and that is exactly what the IHAT has now started to do.
The Minister for Europe (Mr David Lidington): The General Affairs Council and Foreign Affairs Council were held on 25 October in Luxembourg. The UK was represented by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and myself.
The Commissioner for Inter-Institutional Relations and Administration (Sefcovic) briefed on EU 2020, covering the ongoing dialogue with member states on their national reform programmes which are due for submission in November.
I and others raised Pakistan and the importance of delivery on trade and development assistance commitments made at the September European Council. The Foreign Secretary repeated the call later at the FAC.
Ministers discussed at length the issue of the taskforce on economic governance and possible treaty change at both the GAC session on 25 October, and the ministerial dinner with the President of the European Council (Van Rompuy) on 24 October.
Some Ministers made the case for treaty change, arguing that sanctions were integral to any agreement on the crisis resolution mechanism-and that political sanctions would have more clout than financial ones. Others called for greater consultation and transparency, and argued that the EU should avoid appearing divided on the question.
I underlined the importance to the UK of stability in the eurozone, and that it was therefore right that eurozone members strengthened governance arrangements within the eurozone. I stressed that the UK would not be part of any permanent crisis resolution mechanism and that sanctions would not apply to the UK. I undertook to look closely at what was proposed, but as the Prime Minister had already made clear, we would not support anything that involved a transfer of powers from Westminster to Brussels. Many backed my call for an
indicative text to be circulated in advance of the European Council. The presidency concluded by saying that this discussion would continue with Heads at the European Council on 28-29 October.
There was a brief exchange on the EU position for the G20 summit in Seoul on 11-12 November where I pressed for more ambitious language on the Doha negotiations. On climate change, some Ministers expressed concern about the prospects for the UN framework convention to be held in Cancun from 29 November to 10 December. I emphasised the need to be clear about any conditions we should attach to any second Kyoto commitment period.
On the EU's approach to third-country summits, I and a number of other Ministers argued that conclusions from the summits should focus on clear deliverables. On the EU-US summit, many supported my call for a reinvigorated Transatlantic Economic Council with clear tasks. I also proposed including language on Pakistan. Ministers continued their discussions on third-country summits over lunch at the FAC.
Conclusions were adopted that agreed to forward Serbia's membership application to the Commission, while emphasising, inter alia, the importance of co-operation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), the need for constructive regional co-operation, and the importance of progress in the process of dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina.
The Council gave political approval to the final EAS decisions on the Staff and Financial Regulations and the 2011 budget, with formal adoption expected after necessary legal procedures have been completed. Additionally, Baroness Ashton announced the appointments of Pierre Vimont as Executive Secretary General and David O'Sullivan as Chief Operating Officer of the EAS.
Baroness Ashton set out proposals for a one-year transitional arrangement for the EU co-presidency of the Union for the Mediterranean. In response to concerns set out by the Foreign Secretary and others. Baroness Ashton agreed to look again at the proposals with the aim of reaching agreement on a legal basis acceptable to all member states before the 21 November summit.
Baroness Ashton briefed on her contacts with the US over the EU's role in supporting the US-led peace efforts. Following a discussion, she concluded that the EU needed to continue its influencing work with key international stakeholders and its support for Palestinian state-building and Gaza access and exports. Ministers agreed to reaffirm the EU's support for the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.
Ministers exchanged views on options for the EU's approach towards Cuba. They agreed to task Baroness Ashton to reflect on this, working within the EU's Common Position, and report back to Ministers at a later date.
Discussions on the Sahel region focused on the security risks it posed for both the region and Europe. Ministers adopted conclusions tasking Baroness Ashton, in liaison with the Commission, to elaborate a Sahel strategy by the beginning of next year.
The Commissioner for Enlargement (Fule) briefed Ministers on developments for reforming the ENP. The ENP review should culminate with a ministerial conference with ENP partners in February 2011. The UK emphasised that the door to EU enlargement must be kept open for partners that met the criteria. Although ENP was not a pre-accession instrument, it nevertheless provided a framework to prepare partners for eventual membership.