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European Union: Forthcoming Council Business

Baroness Billingham asked Her Majesty's Government:

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: The forthcoming business in the Council of Europe is as follows:

October 2003
7BrusselsJustice & Internal Affairs
9–10RomeDefense (Ministerial Informal)
13–14BrusselsTransport, Telecom & Energy Council
16–17BrusselsGeneral Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC)
20–21BrusselsAgriculture & Fisheries Council
24–25BrusselsEuropean Council
27–28BrusselsEmployment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council
27BrusselsEducation, Youth & Culture Council
BrusselsJustice & Internal Affairs (Informal Council)
BrusselsEnvironment Council
November 2003
6BrusselsEU—Russia Summit
6BrusselsJustice & Internal Affairs (Informal Council)
6–7CataniaEuropean Conference on Employment
17–18BrusselsGeneral Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC)
17–18BrusselsAgriculture & Fisheries Council
18MilanEuropean Conference on Immigration & Labour Market
24–25BrusselsEducation, Youth & Culture Council
27–28BrusselsJustice & Internal Affairs (Informal Council)
28BrusselsEU & Western Balkans JHA Ministers Meeting
December 2003
1–2RomeEuromed Meeting
1–2BrusselsEmployment, Social Policy Health and Consumer Affairs Council
1–3RomeInformal Public Administration Ministerial
4–5BrusselsTransport, Telecom & Energy Council
5–7RomeClosing Conference for the European Year of the Disabled
8–9BrusselsGeneral Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC)
9BrusselsEU and Western Balkans Foreign Ministers meeting
12–13BrusselsEuropean Council
15–17BrusselsAgriculture & Fisheries Council
22BrusselsEnvironment Council
January 2004
8BrusselsAgriculture & Fisheries Council
16–17BrusselsEmployment & Social Policy (Ministerial Informal)
16–17Ireland (venue tbc)Informal Employment and Social Policy
22–23Ireland (venue tbc)Justice & Home Affairs (Ministerial Informal)
26–27BrusselsGeneral Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC)
February 2004
19BrusselsJustice & Home Affairs (Ministerial Informal)
23–24BrusselsGeneral Affairs & External Relations (GAERC)
23–24BrusselsJustice & Home Affairs (Ministerial Informal)
26BrusselsEducation, Youth & Culture Council
March 2004
2BrusselsEnvironment Council
4–5BrusselsEmployment, Social Policy, Health & Consumer Affairs (Ministerial Informal)
8–9BrusselsTransport, Telecom & Energy Council
11BrusselsCompetitiveness Council
22–23BrusselsGeneral Affairs & External Relations (GAERC)
22–23BrusselsAgriculture & Fisheries Council
25–26BrusselsEuropean Council
31BrusselsJustice & Home Affairs (Ministerial Informal)
April 2004
23–24BrusselsEconomic & Financial Affairs (Informal)
26–27BrusselsGeneral Affairs & External Relations (GAERC)
26–27BrusselsAgriculture & Fisheries Council
29–30BrusselsJustice & Home Affairs (Ministerial Informal)

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Intergovernmental Conference

Lord Faulkner of Worcester asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is the purpose of the Intergovernmental Conference, the opening session of which took place in Rome on 4 October.[HL4871]

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: On 4 October my right honourable friends the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary attended the opening session of the Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) in Rome. The conference has been convened to enable member states to make decisions on a future Constitutional Treaty in order to ensure that an expanded European Union is both more effective and more accountable. Its starting point is the draft treaty produced by the Convention on the Future of Europe, placed before the House this August as Command Paper 5897.

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On 9 September we issued a White Paper (Cm 5934) setting out the Government's approach towards the IGC. As we said in that White Paper, the draft treaty is a good basis for starting the IGC negotiations. It consolidates existing treaties into a clearer and more comprehensible text, but one which does not alter the fundamental constitutional relationship between the member states and the Union. It provides for the more efficient decision making processes which will be needed in an enlarged Union of 25 members. For example, it proposes a new position of full-time Chair of the European Council, which will make the Union more efficient, by ending the frequent changes of direction and priority inherent in the rotating presidency system. It also reinforces the role of national Parliaments in the European Union, and the application of the principle of subsidiarity.

We do not regard the draft treaty as perfect: as for many other member states, there are some points in the text which we want to change and others which we need to examine in more detail. Final decisions at the IGC are by unanimity and, as our White Paper stated, we will only accept a final text which makes it clear that issues like tax, defence and foreign policy remain the province of the nation state.

This first detailed session of the IGC, attended by Foreign Ministers, agreed that, when the Council of Ministers is legislating, its proceedings should be as open as possible. It also agreed that the provision in the draft treaty for establishing a legislative council, which we opposed, would be dropped.

The European Council of 16 and 17 October will continue discussion of the draft Treaty. In the mean time, Foreign Ministers met in the context of the General Affairs and External Relations Council, on 13 October. We hope for agreement on a final text in sufficient time to allow for signature of a treaty, as provided in the conclusions of the Thessaloniki Council, as soon as possible after 1 May 2004. In the interim we will of course continue to keep the House informed of progress, including through ministerial appearances at the IGC Standing Committee.

Iraq: UN Arms Embargo

Baroness Whitaker asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they have recently made any exemptions to the United Nations arms embargo on Iraq.[HL4872]

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: Following consultation with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Ministry of Defence, the Department of Trade and Industry recently approved a further licence to export military list goods to Iraq. The arms embargo against Iraq remains in place under United Nations Security Council resolution 1483 (2003), with the exception of "arms and other related material required by the (Coalition Provisional) Authority to serve the purposes of this and other related resolutions". Accordingly, Her Majesty's

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Government consider it appropriate to grant exemptions for the export of submachine guns and pistols which are to be used by private security firms contracted to provide close protection for employees of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) in Iraq. The export is consistent with the consolidated EU and national arms export licensing criteria. Future applications will continue to be assessed on a case by case basis against the UN embargo and consolidated criteria, taking into account the circumstances prevailing at the time.

Works of Art Loaned to British Council: Indemnity Arrangements

Lord Christopher asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many indemnity undertakings were given in respect of loss or damage to works of art loaned to the British Council for exhibition overseas for the six-month period to 30 March; and whether the arrangements for government art indemnities for such exhibitions are being revised.[HL4905]

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: The British Council, although not a government department, receives a substantial grant-in-aid from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The council regularly organises or sponsors exhibitions overseas of works of art loaned from national galleries and private collections in the United Kingdom. It provides certain assurances or guarantees in respect of loss or damage while these works are on loan.

In the six-month period ended 30 March 2003 the British Council provided such assurances to four national lenders and undertakings to 171 private lenders. The value of the contingent liabilities that remained outstanding as at 30 March 2003 in respect of national lenders was £300,000 and £3,703,862 in respect of private lenders.

Following a recent review, HM Treasury, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the British Council have agreed to a revision of the government art indemnities arrangements for artworks loaned to British Council exhibitions overseas. The revised scheme, which comes into effect on 1 April 2004, has three main features. The maximum total liability available to the Council at any one time will be £50 million (compared with the current £70 million). The £50 million limit does not include "high value" exhibitions (i.e. single exhibitions valued at £30 million or over), which are treated separately. In the case of "high value" exhibitions the council will submit proposals to the UK's Public Diplomacy Strategy Board and HM Treasury for approval at least two years in advance. For all exhibitions the council will have to show evidence of having approached the government of the host country for cover and of having sought sponsorship for commercial insurance.

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