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Armed Forces: Marine Services

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Drayson): My right honourable friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces (Adam Ingram) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

Marine services embrace a wide range of waterborne and associated support activities, both in and out of port, at Portsmouth, Devonport and on the Clyde, as well as maintenance of UK and overseas moorings and navigation buoys and support to a range of military operations and training. Under the current arrangements, in-port services are provided by Serco Denholm Ltd, under government-owned contractor-operated arrangements, while out-of-port services are undertaken by the Royal Maritime Auxiliary Service (RMAS).

Since 2002, the Ministry of Defence has been working to find a long-term service provider and, following an industry briefing day in May 2003 and a subsequent pre-qualification questionnaire exercise, four bidders were shortlisted, although two subsequently withdrew. The two remaining bidders, Serco Denholm and the Starfish Consortium—the latter comprising Babcock Naval Services (Clyde), Devonport Management Ltd (Plymouth), Fleet Support Ltd (Portsmouth) and Smit International (Scotland) Ltd—were invited to submit two proposals offering a complete service. One of these proposals
 
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reflected a partnering arrangement with the RMAS, whereby staff remain in the MoD, and the second proposal entailed TUPE transfer as appropriate.

Detailed bid evaluations, using predetermined criteria, have now been completed and Serco Denholm's proposal to provide the complete service, including taking ownership of MoD marine service assets, has been selected as the preferred bidder. Subject to successful final negotiations with the company, a contract will be awarded later this year with service commencement (vesting day) some three months after. While Serco Denholm's proposal may yet be modified as a result of the final negotiations, the ensuing arrangement should be easier to manage than the current ones, be more flexible and will offer the greater potential for continuous improvements.

A key implication of Serco Denholm's proposal results in the transfer of the RMAS workforce to the company on vesting day under the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations. New pension arrangements will also be introduced that are broadly comparable to those currently enjoyed under the Principal Civil Service Pension Scheme.

A further key aspect for MoD will be the closure of Her Majesty's Mooring Depot at Pembroke Dock, which currently employs 38 MoD staff, within 12 months of vesting day. However, Serco Denholm has developed plans with the Milford Haven Port Authority, the Welsh Development Agency and Pembrokeshire County Council to encourage inward investment and support building and infrastructure projects. This will provide alternative opportunities outside the MoD to sustain and improve job creation, in turn underpinning future jobs.

The changes in the way the service will be provided will result in a number of post reductions, although, Pembroke Dock aside, it is too early to determine the exact numbers, or be specific on how different locations will be affected. As far as possible, reductions will be achieved through either natural wastage or voluntary means although the need for some compulsory redundancies cannot be ruled out at this stage.

Throughout the tendering process the department has engaged with the relevant trades unions. Informal dialogue will continue during the negotiation phase and the formal TUPE consultation process will commence following award of contract.

EU: General Affairs and External Relations Council

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Triesman): My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary (Jack Straw), my right honourable friend the Minister for Europe (Douglas Alexander) and Sir John Grant (UK permanent representative to the EU) represented the UK at the General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC) in Brussels on 30 January 2006.
 
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The agenda items were covered as follows:

Work Programme for 2006

The council held a short public debate on the annual operational programme (AOP) of the council for 2006. The debate highlighted the priority areas as the constitutional treaty, the inter-institutional agreement on the financial perspective, growth and jobs, western Balkans, crisis and disaster management (both internal and external), human rights, climate change, JHA, transparency and external relations.

The council also took note of the European Commission's legislative and work programme for 2006 presented by Commissioner Wallstrom, who highlighted in particular growth and jobs, research and education, worker mobility and gender equality.

Lisbon Strategy: Commission Annual Progress Report

European Commission President Barroso presented the Commission's annual progress report on implementation of the economic reform strategy set out at Lisbon in 2000. He highlighted the positive progress so far and close partnership between member states and the Commission.

He said the national reform programmes contained a wide range of ideas and that delivery was now the priority. But there was also a need for further co-ordinated action in some areas and therefore the Commission's report set out four priority areas for immediate action: investment in knowledge and innovation; unlocking business potential, particularly of SMEs; responding to globalisation and demographic change; and a more efficient and integrated EU energy policy. President Barroso concluded by emphasising the need for increased visibility of national action to influence public opinion positively. The presidency summed up the four themes for the Lisbon agenda as,

The council took note of the presentation.

World Trade Organisation/Doha Development Agenda

The council was briefed by Commissioner Mandelson on the latest developments in the current round of trade negotiations under the World Trade Organisation's Doha development round following meetings of key WTO members in the margins of the World Economic Forum in Davos (25–29 January). There was broad support for the Commission's position both in the council and at an informal meeting of EU Trade Ministers on 29 January.

Western Balkans

High Representative Solana briefed the council on the situation in Kosovo following the death of President Rugova. He noted President Rugova's successor, both as president and head of the negotiating team to the Kosovo status process, had not yet been identified. He also briefed on the activities of his personal representative in Montenegro, where no agreement had yet been reached between government and opposition parties on the conduct of the proposed independence referendum.
 
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The Commission introduced its recent communication, proposing a number of practical ways in which the region's EU perspective could be made more tangible to citizens: notably through stimulating trade and investment, and by EU visa facilitation. Member states welcomed the communication and looked forward to discussing the region's future in more depth at the EU-Western Balkans Ministerial Meeting to be held in the margins of the Foreign Ministers' informal meeting (Gymnich) in March.

The council adopted conclusions, covering the Commission's communication, Kosovo, Bosnia, Montenegro and ICTY co-operation.

Latin America

Commissioner Ferrero-Waldner gave a short presentation of the Commission communication on Latin America. Member states welcomed the communication and looked forward to the EU-Latin America/Caribbean Summit in Vienna in May.

Afghanistan

The council agreed conclusions which reaffirm the EU's long-term support for Afghan-led reconstruction, welcome the 31 January-1 February London conference and the launch of the Afghanistan compact, and commit to increased support for economic and social development, counter-narcotics, and reform of the justice and security sectors. In a brief intervention, Dutch Foreign Minister Bot welcomed the conclusions, stating his desire that the council discuss Afghanistan at greater length at some time in the future.

Belarus

In a short discussion, High Representative Solana and Commissioner Ferrero-Waldner gave readouts of their separate bilateral meetings with Mr Alexander Milinkevich (united opposition candidate in the forthcoming Belarus presidential elections, who was visiting Brussels). The meetings had been warm and constructive.

Several member states intervened, emphasising the importance of support for Belarusian civil society, international election observers operating unimpeded, monitoring the plight of political prisoners in Belarus, and reducing visa fees for Belarusians as a way of promoting people-to-people contact. They also highlighted the role of the OSCE in monitoring the election, and the scope for further co-operation with the US.

The council adopted short conclusions which call on the Belarusian authorities to ensure that the elections are conducted in accordance with international standards; welcome the Belarusian authorities' invitation to OSCE/ODIHR to monitor the election and note the willingness of EU member states to contribute to that mission; but state that the EU's readiness to take restrictive measures against individuals is responsible for a failure to uphold international standards.
 
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Middle East Peace Process

The council discussed the Hamas election victory over lunch. High Representative Solana summarised the situation stressing that he understood that it was unlikely that a new government would be in place for at least three months but the Palestinian Authority (PA) was now bankrupt. Commissioner Ferrero-Waldner agreed the PA was in financial crisis. Several member states intervened, highlighting the need to keep lines of communication open but to make clear EU demands—namely, that Hamas renounce violence. The council adopted conclusions which make it clear that the EU's readiness to continue funding is clearly dependent on a Palestinian government committed to a peaceful and negotiated solution of the conflict.

Iran

In a short discussion, French Foreign Minister Mr Douste-Blazy and the Foreign Secretary briefed the council on the E3/EU process ahead of the 2–3 February emergency International Atomic Energy Agency board of governors meeting.

Iraq

The council agreed positive conclusions welcoming the announcements of the election results, paying tribute to the impressive turnout of voters and encouraging the swift formation of an inclusive government.

Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM)

The council, over lunch, considered the forthcoming meetings to be held in Europe in 2006 under the ASEM process on the basis of the EU common position on Burma, which is due for renewal in April.

AOB: Nepal

Dutch Foreign Minister Bot drew the council's attention to recent developments in Nepal and in particular to human rights violations. In a statement on 27 January, the EU expressed its deep concern over the situation in the country, where political forces seem to be moving towards an ever more severe confrontation and polarisation, thus increasing the risk of deepening political crisis.

AOB: Ivory Coast

Dutch Foreign Minister Bot drew the council's attention to the deteriorating situation in Ivory Coast and stressed the importance of the international community's engagement to encourage a return to the peace process.

AOB: Middle East: Reactions to cartoons in a Danish newspaper

Danish Foreign Minister Moller raised over lunch the issue of reactions in the Middle East following the publication in September 2005 of cartoons portraying the prophet Mohammed in an independent Danish newspaper. The council adopted a statement strongly rejecting any threats by militant factions against EU citizens. The presidency also underlined the importance of both freedom of expression, as a fundamental freedom, and respect for religious beliefs.
 
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