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Development Ministers will discuss Afghanistan over dinner. There will not be any formal Council conclusions. The Government believe that the EU, together with other major donors, should give full support to the Afghan Governments National Development Strategy; and push for delivering on the commitments made at the Paris conference on the importance of improving the effectiveness of aid to Afghanistan, including delivering assistance in a co-ordinated and coherent way through the Afghan Government wherever possible. The EU should also give strong backing to UN Secretary-Generals Special Representative Kai Eides eight-point plan to ensure better co-ordination of the international effort in Afghanistan and increase the impact of the UN. The Government welcome the response of EU member
states to the world food programmes humanitarian appeals. The UK has committed £16.5 million to alleviate food shortages since January.
Despite recent falls in food prices, the Government believe it remains important for the EU implement ambitious short and longer-term responses to assist those most affected by food insecurity. The Government welcome the EUs support for the global partnership on agriculture and food (GPAF) and the ongoing reform process of the UN food and agriculture organisation.
We expect Ministers to agree conclusions on guidelines for EU participation in the international conference on financing for development in Doha on 29 November to 2 December. The Government believe it is critical to maintain support for the Monterrey consensus on financing for development and to reaffirm support for development assistance, especially in light of the current global financial crisis. It is important the EU agrees strong Council conclusions, including commitments to aid volumes and timetables for delivering aid, including to least developed countries, in order to support accelerated progress towards the millennium development goals as part of this Year of Action on MDGs.
Ministers will discuss Council conclusions on the European Commissions regional integration communication on the Africa Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries. The Government would like the Council to adopt language on economic partnership agreements (EPAs) that stresses: the importance of maintaining a flexible approach in the future negotiations when moving from interim to regional EPAs; and the need for development-friendly rules of origin in regional EPAs and interim EPAs, where appropriate, that foster regional integration and diversification of ACP economies.
The Secretary of State for Health (Alan Johnson): Healthy Weight, Healthy Lives: a cross-government strategy for England, published January 2008, included a commitment to invest £30 million between 2008-09 and 2010-11 in a Healthy Community Challenge Fund. The strategy explained that up to £5 million would be given to a small number of interested local areashealthy townsto build on existing work in their communities and test out their ideas on what further action needs to happen to make regular physical activity and healthy food choices easier for their population. This funding would be matched by contributions from the local area.
The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Shaun Woodward): I have received the 20th report of the Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC). This report has been made under articles 4 and 7 of the international agreement that established the Commission and it reports on levels of paramilitary activity in Northern Ireland. I have considered the content of the report and I am today bringing it before Parliament. I have placed copies in the Library of the House.
The report underlines the progress that has been made, particularly over the last three years, towards a more normal society in Northern Ireland. If further evidence of that were needed, the mutual respect and sensitivity demonstrated by the arrangements for the homecoming parades in Belfast and elsewhere shows the continued progress being made. The IMC also make the point that the devolution of policing and justice powers would be a further indication of progress.
The report sets out the clear and important benefits that devolution would bring. It would enable the closer integration of law enforcement with other domestic policy, essential in the fight against crime. It would also allow the Executive and Assembly to ensure that the criminal justice system was fully aligned to the needs of an increasingly normalised Northern Ireland and that a co-ordinated, strategic approach to policing and justice could evolve.
The report acknowledges that the absence of certainty on the devolution of policing and justice may have encouraged dissident republican groups to think that they could exploit a political vacuum. Certainly the report clearly shows that both the Real Irish Republican Army (RIRA) and the Continuity Irish Republican Army (CIRA) have been more active at the same time in recent months. The reports picture of an increased threat by dissident republicans, including a high level of threat to police officers, is obviously a matter of concern, and the PSNI and security services continue to work to counter it. They should be commended for this work when the threat is so firmly targeted at their own officers.
The report confirms the assessment made in previous reports that PIRA have maintained an exclusively political path and have completely relinquished the leadership and other structures appropriate to a time of armed conflict. In other words it is redundant.
The IMC is clear that while there is intent by some loyalists to proceed along a peaceful path, progress has been disappointingly slow with some members being involved in criminality for personal gain. The message to the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) is clear: it must recognise that the organisations time as a paramilitary group has passed and that decommissioning is inevitable. The report points both the Ulster Volunteers Force (UVF) and the UDA to my statement in May that the legal protection for decommissioning will go sooner rather than later. The Government will look closely at the conclusions reached by the IMC.
Once again, I am grateful to the Commission for the submission of this report and for its careful analysis. The report offers a clear picture of both the extraordinary progress made and the challenges ahead to secure an end to paramilitarism in Northern Ireland and the devolution of policing and justice.
The Parliamentary Secretary, Government Equalities Office (Maria Eagle): I wish to notify Parliament that Great Britain has fully implemented the recast directive 2006/54/EC, as required by the European Union. The recast directive came into force on 15 August 2006 with a primary aim of ensuring the implementation of the principle of equal treatment between men and women, in matters of employment and occupation in member states.
Our domestic law is fully compliant with the requirements of the recast directive, which repeals and replaces four existing EU directives and incorporates some established principles of case law from the European Court of Justice. In Great Britain we already protect people from discrimination on the grounds of sex, through the Equal Pay Act 1970 and the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 and the anti-discrimination provisions in the Social Security Act 1989 and the Pensions Act 1995.
We are, therefore, in a position to notify the European Commission that we have transposed the recast directive into our domestic law, in the way set out in the transposition table which will be placed in the Library.
The Equality Bill will bring together the provisions of the Sex Discrimination and the Equal Pay Acts and the relevant aspects of the Social Security and Pensions Acts along with the law governing discrimination on other grounds. We will ensure that the Equality Bill too is fully compliant with European legislation.