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Serious Fraud Office

Mr. Laws: To ask the Solicitor General how many (a) investigations and (b) prosecutions by the Serious Fraud Office there were in each year since 1988; how many prosecutions led to a conviction in each year; what the total cost was; and if she will make a statement. [99832]

The Solicitor-General [holding answer 4 March 2003]: The following table provides all the relevant Serious Fraud Office statistics in relation to investigations, prosecutions and the total cost from the inception of the SFO in April 1988 to date (end of February 2003).

Financial year(April to April)Active caseloadat year endTrials completedin yearNumber of defendants in trials completedNumber of convictions in trials completed(by defendant)Annual total cost £ million

(6) Provisional

I draw attention to the second column of the table 'Active Caseload at Year End', where the figures represent those cases actually under investigation, those awaiting trial and those where a trial had been commenced but had not been formally concluded with a verdict or verdicts. I feel the other statistics speak for themselves.

Since its inception, the conviction rate of the Serious Fraud Office as an average, is 84 per cent. by number of trials in which at least one defendant was found guilty and 73 per cent. by number of defendants, which I am sure the hon. Gentleman will agree is a respectable record.

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Joan Ruddock: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what steps are being taken to encourage Afghanistan to ratify CEDAW. [101228]

Mr. Mike O'Brien: We believe that adherence to international human rights norms, including the UN Charter and CEDAW (the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, which a previous Afghan Government signed in 1980, but did not ratify) are key to restoring the rights of women in Afghanistan.

We continue to encourage the Afghan Transitional Administration to work towards ratification of CEDAW. We raised this most recently with the Afghan Minister for Women, Habiba Sarabi, when she visited the UK from 9–15 February 2003. We also co-sponsored the 2002 UN Commission on the Status of Women Resolution on Afghanistan, which urged the Afghan authorities to give high priority to ratification of CEDAW, and to consider signing and ratifying the Optional Protocol to the Convention.

Joan Ruddock: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what progress is being made on women's access to justice in Afghanistan. [101230]

Mr. Mike O'Brien: Lack of capacity in the judicial and legal sector means that access to justice remains difficult for all Afghans. Women face particular problems including in exercising their rights to property and to divorce. Women are represented on the Drafting Committee of the Constitutional Commission, tasked with drafting a new constitution, and on the Judicial Commission, responsible for overseeing development of the legal system. This should help to ensure that women's needs are taken into account in the reform process.

We have recently pledged £1 million to support the United Nations Development Programme's work on rebuilding the justice sector in Afghanistan, in partnership with the Judicial Commission. A major focus of their work will be to improve women's access to justice.

Biological and Toxic Weapons Convention

Mr. Lazarowicz: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will take steps to encourage signatories to the Biological and Toxic Weapons Convention to monitor their compliance with its terms. [100251]

Mr. Mike O'Brien: The first meeting of BWC technical experts, which will take place in Geneva from 18 to 29 August this year, will focus on national implementation, including penal legislation and bio-security. This meeting will provide a major opportunity to encourage states parties to take steps to monitor their own compliance with the Convention.

The UK will table papers setting out some of the specific requirements which may need to be included in national measures to implement the Convention and in

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penal legislation. We will use our own experience in health, safety and physical security legislation to outline minimum standards for other states parties to follow, where they are presently without comparable legislation. The UK will also use this meeting to argue the case for a sustained international process to encourage all states parties to put in place legislation and effective measures to ensure implementation of the Convention.


Mr. Kaufman: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when he will reply to the letter to him dated 28 January 2003 from the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton with regard to Mr. John Meah. [100683]

Mr. Straw: I apologise to my right hon. Friend for not replying to his earlier letter. This was due to a clerical error. I will write to him about Mr. Meah's case this week.

David Winnick: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when the hon. Member for Walsall, North will receive a reply to his letter of 16 January regarding a constituent. [101086]

Mr. Mike O'Brien: I have replied to my hon. Friend. There was a delay in reply due to an administrative oversight and I apologise for that.

Falun Gong

Mr. Nigel Jones: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what assessment he has made of the Chinese Government's attempts under Article 23 legislation to curtail the practice of Falun Gong in Hong Kong without consultation with the people of Hong Kong; and whether this is in contravention of safeguards given to the people of Hong Kong when the territory was returned to China. [100470]

Mr. Rammell: Under Article 23 of the basic law, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) Government is required to "enact laws on its own to prohibit any act of treason, secession, sedition, subversion against the Central People's Government, or theft of state secrets, to prohibit foreign political organisations or bodies from conducting political activities in the region, and to prohibit political organisations or bodies of the region from establishing ties with foreign political organisations or bodies".

The SAR Government published a consultation document outlining its proposals to implement this requirement on 24 September 2002. Following a public consultation exercise lasting three months, the SAR Government published draft legislation on 14 February 2003. This incorporated several changes to the initial proposals, in response to concerns expressed during the consultation period. We welcome this demonstration of the SAR Government's willingness to take account of views expressed. The legislation has now been submitted to the Legislative Council (LegCo). It is anticipated that there will be lengthy discussions in LegCo, including public hearings, before the legislation is agreed. Once the law has come into force, any decisions made on the implementation of the new legislation will be open

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to judicial review in the Hong Kong courts which, under the "One Country, Two Systems" policy, are independent from the legal system in mainland China.

We issued statements about the original proposals in November 2002. In these, we referred to concerns in Hong Kong about the outline proposals concerning the proscription of organisations. These concerns were voiced by many individuals and organisations, including Falun Gong. We are now studying the precise wording of the draft legislation. We have, however, noted that the Hong Kong Secretaries for Justice and Security have both said that this legislation would not be aimed at imposing sanctions on any group such as the Falun Gong.

On a visit to Hong Kong in January 2003, I discussed Article 23 in some detail with senior members of the SAR Government. I made clear to them our concerns about the proposals. On a visit to Beijing before arriving in Hong Kong, I also took the opportunity to discuss Article 23 with Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister, Zhang Yesui.

The SAR Government have given repeated assurances that the final legislation will be compatible with the basic rights and freedoms laid down in the Joint Declaration and guaranteed by the basic law. These include the requirement that the legislation will be compatible with the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. It is vital for the future prosperity of Hong Kong that its people and the international community perceive this to be the case when legislation is finally passed. We shall continue to watch this crucial issue very carefully.

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