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26 Feb 2001 : Column WA105

Written Answers

Monday, 26th February 2001.

European Security and Defence Policy

Lord Pearson of Rannoch asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the statement by Baroness Scotland of Asthal that "The conclusions of the European Council were agreed by the heads of government at Nice and are politically binding (H.L. Deb., 7 February, col. 1235) applies to the French Presidency Report to the Nice Council on the European strategic and defence policy; and, if so, whether the United Kingdom is politically bound by the statement contained in the report, which reads " . . . the entire chain of command must remain under the political control and strategic direction of the European Union throughout the operation, after consultation between the two organisations. In that framework the operation commander will report on the conduct of the operations to European Union bodies only. NATO will be informed of developments in the situation by the appropriate bodies, in particular the PSC and the Chairman of the Military Committee.[HL720]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): The Conclusions of the Nice European Council record the Council's approval of the Presidency Report on the European security and defence policy. The extract in question comes from the Appendix to Annex VII. This sets out "suggestions" by the European Union, on the basis of decisions taken by NATO at its 1999 Washington Summit, as to how the so-called "Berlin Plus" arrangements might be implemented by the EU and NATO.

The "Berlin Plus" arrangements will enable the EU to have access to NATO assets and capabilities, including the use of NATO command options, for EU-lead operations, following decisions by NATO. The detailed arrangements remain to be worked out by the EU and NATO. However, once an EU-led operation was under way decisions on its political control and strategic direction would be a matter for EU governments. There would be intensified consultation between the EU and NATO before, during and after an operation. The elements of the permanent consultation arrangements have now been agreed by the EU and NATO.

Sudan: Aerial Bombing Campaign

The Earl of Sandwich asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What representations they have made to the Sudanese and Egyptian governments on the Sudan Government's continuing bombing campaign in the south of Sudan.[HL764]

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Baroness Scotland of Asthal: Our Ambassador in Khartoum has made our concerns about the aerial bombing campaign clear to the Sudanese authorities. FCO officials have discussed our concerns with the Egyptian Embassy in London. We will continue to urge both sides in Sudan's civil war to return to the negotiating table and agree a comprehensive ceasefire.

Iran: Sentencing of Interpreters

Lord Lester of Herne Hill asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they are aware of the protest made by the International Association of Conference Interpreters against the sentencing in Iran of two Iranian-German translator-interpreters, Khalil Rostamkhani and Said Sadr, for the alleged "participation" in a conference to which they provided their services; and, if so, whether they will make representations to the Iranian Government.[HL797]

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: We are aware that two interpreters were among those convicted on 13 January for their participation at an open conference in Berlin. Both the UK and the EU have publicly expressed deep concern at the verdicts. We and our EU partners take every opportunity to raise human rights concerns of this nature with the Iranian authorities, both in Tehran and London. My honourable friend Peter Hain, then Minister of State at the FCO, did so with the Iranian Ambassador on 22 January.

UNRWA: UK Contribution

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is the annual amount of their contribution to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian refugees in the Near East; whether it is fully paid; and whether they will list the states currently in arrears with amounts in each case.[HL700]

Baroness Amos: We have steadily increased our contributions to UNRWA's general fund, from £6 million in 1997 to £9.5 million in 2000, to reflect our increased confidence in UNRWA's governance and the rising numbers of refugees. In addition we have made further contributions, totalling £8 million, in 2000 to help cover UNRWA's budget deficit and to support the emergency appeal during the recent conflict. We also provide substantial technical assistance, to a value of £700,000 in 2000. Funding is voluntary, rather than by assessed contributions, and as such there are no arrears. UNRWA is likely to face a budget deficit again this year and we have supported the agency's efforts to widen the donor base and have urged existing donors to maintain, and increase, their annual contributions.

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Female Genital Mutilation

Baroness Rawlings asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the answer given by Baroness Amos on 12 February (H.L. Deb., col. 6) that they give £400,000 to the Inter-African Committee on Traditional Practices is consistent with the answer given by Baroness Amos on 22 November 2000 (H.L. Deb., col. 811) that "we have committed £400 million to support primary education programmes"; and whether they accept that the latter figure was the figure referred to by Baroness Rawlings (H.L. Deb., col. 5.).[HL750]

Baroness Amos: The answer I gave on 12 February is entirely consistent with that of 22 November. As of November, the Government had committed over £400 million to support primary education since 1997. This figure has now risen to £500 million. In addition, we are funding a number of projects targeted specifically to support the prevention of female genital mutilation (FGM). Since 1997, £1.2 million has been allocated to targeted projects, including £400,000 to support the work of the Inter-African Committee on Traditional Practices.

Sudan: Peace-building Work

The Earl of Sandwich asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What progress they have made with the implementation of a development programme in peaceful areas of southern Sudan.[HL765]

Baroness Amos: We do not believe conditions are right for a development programme in any part of the Sudan at present. The overriding priority is peace. We are however prepared to support imaginative ideas for peace-building work from international non-government organisations. We shall also continue to respond to urgent humanitarian needs wherever they arise in the country.

Life-saving Drugs for Developing Countries: WTO Guidelines

Lord Judd asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What action they are taking to ensure that patents guidelines introduced by the World Trade Organisation do not harm the health and well-being of the people of developing countries by prohibiting or inhibiting the production of cheaper, generic versions of life-saving drugs within the developing countries themselves.[HL782]

Baroness Amos: The vast majority of drugs on the WTO Essential Drugs List are off-patent and are available at competitive prices from generic manufacturers. With regard to on-patent drugs, the

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UK Government believe that the TRIPs (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) agreement provides WTO members with sufficient flexibility to implement domestic patent regimes that take account of their national circumstances. For example, the agreement allows "compulsory licensing" in situations such as "national emergencies" when governments may authorise production of drugs.

The UK Government believe the best way forward to be through negotiation with pharmaceutical companies, on price and licensing. The Cabinet Office Performance and Innovation Unit's study is exploring a range of policy options to increase access to medicines, including tiered or differential pricing agreements, tax incentives and common purchase funds. The Department for International Development is setting up a commission on intellectual property rights to ensure that the interests of poorer countries are fully taken into account. We also continue to work with developing country governments to strengthen healthcare systems, without which the poorest will not be able to access appropriate and affordable treatment.

New Medicines and Developing Countries

Lord Judd asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What action they are taking to encourage drugs companies to increase funding for research into the diseases which most threaten lives of the people of poor countries.[HL784]

Baroness Amos: Currently, only 10 per cent of global research funds are dedicated to the 90 per cent of disease burden that affects the poor. The UK Government are working to encourage public-private partnerships to increase investment in research for new medicines.

The Cabinet Office Performance and Innovation Unit is carrying out a study on a wide range of policy options, with the aim of improving access and affordability of drugs in developing countries. This includes strengthening research and development incentives for the pharmaceutical industry. Possible mechanisms are tax incentives for research into specific diseases and common purchase funds (where governments and international agencies provide a purchase guarantee for the development of a specific drug).

The UK Government are a major contributor to several innovative international partnerships between the public and private sectors. Those with a strong research component include the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI), the Medicines for Malaria Venture (MMV) and the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI).

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