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Written Ministerial Statements

Tuesday 28 April 2009


Finance Bill 2009

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Stephen Timms): The Finance Bill will be published on Thursday 30 April.

Explanatory notes on the Bill will be available in the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office and in the Libraries of both Houses on that day. Copies of the explanatory notes will be available on the Treasury’s website.

Informal ECOFIN: 3-4 April 2009

The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Alistair Darling): The informal meeting of the Economic and Financial Affairs Council was held in Prague on 3 and 4 April 2009.

The Informal first focused on the issues facing Europe from the current economic and financial situation, including the impact of the recession on global trade and labour markets and the need to restore growth. The Informal also discussed the G20 summit and the forthcoming spring meetings of the IMF and World Bank. Ministers also assessed the costs and benefits of the 2004 enlargement.

Ministers and governors also held the first discussion of the recommendations made by the high-level group of Jacques de Larosière regarding the reform of the financial supervisory framework in Europe.

The Financial Services Secretary to the Treasury represented the UK.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

United Nations Durban Review Conference

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (David Miliband): I would like to update the House on the UN Durban Review Conference, the follow-up to the 2001 UN World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance which took place in Geneva from 20 to 24 April. The Government are firmly committed to the elimination of all forms of racism and intolerance. We engaged in this conference because we share its goal of fighting racism.

The UK’s engagement in the review process has always come with clear red lines that, if breached, would have led to our withdrawal. We made clear in particular that we would not accept a repeat of the appalling anti-Semitism seen at the first Durban conference in 2001. And the outcome text would need to meet a number of explicit conditions.

In the event, we negotiated a text that did meet those conditions. In particular, we resisted attempts for language calling for restrictions to the right of freedom of expression,
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including through the concept of “defamation of religions”. We secured language on Holocaust remembrance (to which Iran objected but then, in a minority of one, agreed) and the fight against anti-Semitism, and successfully rebutted attempts to single out any country for criticism in the outcome document. We also ensured the text included references to multiple forms of discrimination—which we interpret to cover also the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people—and the importance of the right to freedom of expression in combating racism.

Given that the UK and its partners were successful in achieving our red lines in the outcome document, we decided that the UK should participate in the conference. But we shared the concerns of those who feared the misuse of this conference for intolerant ends and worked hard to avoid such a scenario. I wrote to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on 17 April making it clear that we would not accept intolerant behaviour in the conference.

On 20 April, on the first day of the conference, President Ahmadinejad of Iran delivered a statement to the conference, in which he made unacceptable comments describing Israel as a “racist Government” established on the “pretext of Jewish suffering”. The Government deemed these comments offensive, inflammatory and utterly unacceptable. That such remarks were made at the UN’s anti-racism conference was all the more shocking and outrageous. On instructions agreed between several like-minded countries, the UK delegation—along with a number of others—left the hall in protest and in solidarity with those targeted by the Iranian President. The delegation returned to the hall once the Iranian President had finished speaking.

The British ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, Peter Gooderham, delivered a statement on 22 April condemning the Iranian President’s speech, but also making it clear that we did not want to leave the stage only to those, like President Ahmadinejad, who would take global efforts against racism backwards. We remained in the UN conference because we wanted an outcome that advanced global efforts against racism. The UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, and High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, also condemned the President’s interventions, as did many other speakers.

The UK delegation kept in close touch with UK-based non-governmental organisation stakeholders throughout the conference.

The fight against racism remains a global struggle. Victims of racism deserve better than political squabbling and intolerant polemics. I believe that the Government did the right thing by remaining in the conference, having our voices heard, and ensuring an acceptable outcome document.


Advisory Panel on Judicial Diversity

The Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor (Mr. Jack Straw): The challenge of forming a diverse judiciary is substantial. The work of the Judicial Appointments Commission’s (JAC’s) Judicial Diversity Forum and proactive trilateral work between the Ministry of Justice, the judiciary and the JAC has made this
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clear. While the JAC has encouraged more diverse applications to the judiciary and the efforts of the trilateral work have meant that we are now seeing increasing numbers of women and black and minority ethnic applicants for judicial office, progress has been slower than we would like.

Given the personal commitment of the Lord Chief Justice and the chairman of the JAC to this cause, we need a better understanding of the factors behind this relative lack of progress and a clear agenda for how we move forward.

I have therefore decided to establish an advisory panel on judicial diversity to be chaired by Baroness Julia Neuberger with the following terms of reference:

The panel is asked to report to the Lord Chancellor no later than November 2009.

The other members of the panel are Lord Justice Goldring, Professor Dame Hazel Genn, Andrew Holroyd CBE, Winston Hunter QC, Dr Nicola Brewer.

This will be work that must bring together and make the best use of the combined expertise of the senior judiciary, the JAC, the legal professions and diversity and equality advisers to identify how we can make swifter progress to a judiciary more reflective of the communities it serves.


Delivering a Sustainable Transport System (Consultation)

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): I have today published a summary of the responses received to the Government’s consultation on “Delivering a Sustainable Transport System: Consultation on Planning for 2014 and Beyond”. Copies have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses, and are available on the Department’s website (www.dft.gsi.gov.uk).

There were over 500 responses to the consultation. The great majority supported economic growth and tackling climate change as the most important challenges, with over half identifying climate change as the single
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most important challenge to be addressed. There was also support for the approach to decision-making we proposed.

The Government have given careful consideration to the issues raised by stakeholders, and the document I have published today summarises how we intend to take them into account when developing packages of transport measures.

Women and Equality

Special Fund for Sexual Violence Voluntary Sector

The Parliamentary Secretary, Government Equalities Office (Maria Eagle): On 19 March the Minister for Women and Equality announced a £1.6 million cross-Government special fund for Rape Crisis Centres (members of Rape Crisis England and Wales) and the Survivors’ Trust sexual violence charities in England and Wales.

These charities provide invaluable support and specialist services, such as counselling and advocacy, to women and men who have been raped or experienced sexual violence.

The fund will open for applications for support from eligible organisations on 28 April, with a deadline of 5 June. It is anticipated that grants will be made to successful organisations in July this year. The purpose of the special fund is to ensure the continuation of voluntary sector services to victims of rape and sexual abuse. Details of how to apply and the eligibility criteria will be available on my Department’s website (www.equalities.gov.uk). This special fund is a cross-Government initiative involving the Government Equalities Office, Department of Health, and Home Office.

Last year’s special fund ensured that 20 Rape Crisis Centres (members of Rape Crisis England and Wales) did not have to close or reduce services to victims of rape and sexual abuse. Since the announcement of last year’s fund, the Survivors’ Trust has provided information that their members’ services and groups were at risk of closure. That is why the terms of this new fund have been expanded to ensure that members of both Rape Crisis (England and Wales) and the Survivors’ Trust can apply.

Nevertheless, the Government recognise the on-going problems experienced by the sexual violence sector, particularly in respect of accessing local funding. Officials across Government are working to consider what more we can do, based on the recommendations made by the Home Office’s Stakeholder Advisory Group on Sexual Violence and Abuse Funding Sub-group. Government Equalities Office is working with the Improvement and Development Agency (IDeA) in local government to improve the way local commissioning of services from the violence against women third sector works. This will include piloting workshops in three regions in the summer. These workshops will bring together violence against women organisations with commissioners from bodies such as local government and PCTs.

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