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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Bach): My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (Bridget Prentice) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
My right honourable friend the Minister for the Armed Forces and I wish to make the following Statement to the House about the inquests of service personnel who have died overseas. Our sincere condolences go to the families of the 13 service personnel who have lost their lives in service of their country since the last Statement, and our thoughts and prayers remain with all the families whose loved ones have died on operations.
Today, we are announcing the progress that has been made since the Written Ministerial Statement on 2 February 2009 (Official Report, col. 37WS), with information about the conduct of inquests by the Wiltshire and Swindon and other coroners. This Statement gives the position at 27 April.
At the time of the last Statement, we reported that 220 inquests had been held since June 2006: 206 into the overseas deaths of service personnel and 14 into the deaths of civilians in Iraq whose bodies were repatriated via RAF Brize Norton or RAF Lyneham.
Since operations commenced in 2001 there have been a total of 254 inquests into the deaths of service personnel who lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan, including four service personnel who died in the UK of their injuries. In two further cases, no formal inquest was held, but the deaths were taken into consideration during inquest proceedings for those who died in the same incident.
Our departments continue to work closely together, and with the coroners, to review the way in which the system is working and to look for opportunities, prior to the implementation of the coroners legislation which is currently before Parliament in the Coroners and Justice Bill, to make improvements for the benefit of the bereaved families.
On 17 March the Government tabled amendments to the Coroners and Justice Bill, which will have the effect of enabling fatal accident inquiries to take place in Scotland into the deaths of service personnel killed
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The Statement in February reported that there was one remaining inquest to be held into a death where the body was repatriated via RAF Brize Norton prior to 31 March 2007, that into the death of Marine Wigley. That remains the position and the inquest will be heard for five days starting on 11 May.
Since October 2007, additional resources have been provided by the Government to ensure that a backlog of inquests will not build up in the Wiltshire and Swindon jurisdiction (since 1 April 2007 fatalities are repatriated via RAF Lyneham). The coroner transfers inquests for service personnel to a coroner closer to the bereaved family, where possible. David Masters retired as the Wiltshire and Swindon Coroner on 31 March but his successor, David Ridley, has appointed him as an assistant deputy coroner to ensure that his experience and expertise is retained.
There are 71 inquests to be concluded into the deaths of service personnel who died in Iraq and Afghanistan whose bodies were repatriated after 1 April 2007 (33 involving deaths in the past six months). Of these, Mr Ridley has retained 38 inquests, whilst 33 inquests are being conducted by coroners closer to the next-of-kin. Inquest hearing dates have been set in 11 of these cases.
We shall continue to keep the House informed about progress with the remaining inquests. I have placed tables in the Library of the House which outline the status of all cases and date of death of each case. Copies are also available in the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office.
We are today beginning a UK consultation on the European Commission proposal for an equal treatment directive. The consultation will end on 28 July 2009. The consultation document seeks views to inform the UK Governments further consideration of a proposed European Commission (EC) directive to prohibit discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief, disability, age and sexual orientation outside the areas of employment and vocational training.
The UK Government wish to consult in particular on the impact of the draft directive in those areas where its proposals are, or might be, at variance with the current and proposed law, and on the impact of the proposals on individuals, business and others.
The consultation document is being sent to around 300 organisations and will be available on the website of the Government Equalities Office at www.equalities .gov.uk/international/eu_directive.aspx.
The Financial Services Secretary to the Treasury (Lord Myners): My right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Alistair Darling) has today made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
The European Commission forecasts to be published on 4 May will form the basis of an exchange of views between ministers about the economic situation. The UK believes there is a continued need for member states to work together in ensuring a co-ordinated response to the crisis.
Following on from the conclusions of the 19 and 20 March 2009 spring European Council, ECOFIN is expected to reach agreement on the Commission's proposal to amend the regulation establishing a facility providing medium-term financial assistance for member
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ECOFIN will be asked to adopt conclusions on the implementation of structural reforms to enhance the sustainability and quality of public finances, and endorse a report on age-related economic and budgetary projections for EU member states. The Government believe in the importance of sustainability and quality of public finances, particularly in the current juncture.
Following on from discussions at the informal ECOFIN in April, Ministers will adopt a set of conclusions on the economic impacts of the 2004 wave of enlargement. The UK can support the conclusions, which set out the achievements and benefits of the 2004 enlargement, the importance of structural reforms and the need for resisting protectionist policies.
The Commission will update the council on recent progress made on regulatory dialogues with third countries, in particular the United States, China, Japan and Russia. It will focus on reform of the regulation and supervision of the financial system, within the context of the G20.
The Commission will present the proposed EC Budget for 2010. This marks the beginning of the 2010 annual budget negotiations that will run until December. The UK supports a realistic budget which promotes sound financial management.
The presidency will give an update on the state of play on four financial services dossiers heading for first reading deals with the European Parliament: Solvency II, the e-money directive, the cross-border payments regulation and the regulation on credit rating agencies.
Full details of A points adopted at the General Affairs Council can be found at www.consilium. europa.eu/uedocs/cms_data/docs/pressdata/en/gena/107418.pdf.
The council took stock of the progress of accession negotiations with Croatia, focusing on the bilateral territorial dispute between Croatia and Slovenia, with the latter blocking the nine chapters ready for opening or closing. Commissioner Rehn briefed on his efforts to find a solution and set out a compromise proposal, which received widespread support.
The presidency called on both sides in the border dispute to show political will and a constructive approach in finding a compromise. They stressed the urgency of the issue and hoped that both sides would be able to respond to the Commission's latest proposal by early May. The Government endorse the presidencys approach and support the efforts of Commissioner Rehn to facilitate a mutually acceptable solution to the territorial dispute so that accession negotiations can move forward.
The presidency briefed on the preparations for the 7 May employment summit and the southern corridor summit on 8 May. The aim of the former summit, which the Government support, is to equip the EU's labour markets for future economic recovery.
The southern corridor summit will follow up the Spring European Council's call for diversification of sources and routes of energy supplies demonstrating the EUs strong political support for the development of the southern corridor through concrete actions. It will give a strong message that the EU and southern corridor partner countries are prepared to enhance their relations, particularly in the energy and transport fields. The Government strongly welcome the summit and the draft joint declaration.
The full text of council conclusions (including A points) can be accessed at www.consilium.europa.eu/uedocs/cms_data/docs/pressdata/en/gena/107419.pdf.
EU Foreign Ministers also adopted conclusions, which the Government also welcome, expressing concern about the human rights situation; underlining the EUs commitment to promoting political, social and economic reform in Burma/Myanmar; and urging the Government of Burma/Myanmar to engage meaningfully with the UN Secretary-Generals good offices mission.
My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary thanked Commissioner Ferrero-Waldner for her positive and active engagement. He announced that he would visit Sri Lanka on 29 April to call for urgent action by the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) to avoid further civilian casualties and avert a humanitarian disaster; inside the conflict zone, civilians remained trapped by the fighting; the reported intimidation and killings by the LTTE were completely unacceptable; outside, internally displaced persons desperately needed full access to humanitarian assistance.
The council adopted conclusions, based on a UK text, which: noted the LTTEs announcement of a unilateral cease-fire; called for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire to allow safe evacuation of civilians trapped in the conflict zone; welcomed the reported announcement by GoSL of an end to heavy military operations; welcomed the visit of Sir John Holmes, UN Commissioner for Humanitarian Affairs; and repeated calls on GoSL to proceed urgently towards an inclusive and peaceful political process.
Discussion focused on the EUs key messages to the parties. Ministers agreed on the importance of supporting a two-state solution and the integration of the Arab peace initiative, encouraging adherence to roadmap commitments, in particular on settlements, and urging Israel to open the crossings into Gaza.
This item was added to the agenda at the request of Malta and Italy, following a dispute between the two member states concerning the fate of 140 migrants rescued in nearby waters on 16 April. They expressed concerns about the issue of illegal migration across the Mediterranean, pointing out that it was a problem for the EU as a whole.
The UK is equally concerned about the increasing flows of illegal migrants through the Mediterranean region, many of whom transit through Libya before reaching Europe. In the past 12 months there have been approximately 34,000 illegal migrants entering Europe by sea on this route. We are working closely with our European partners, in particular Italy and Malta, to develop an effective framework for co-operation on border control with Libya.
This was added at Belgiums request following an attack upon a Belgian-flagged merchant vessel by pirates off the Somali coast on 18 April. Ministers discussed the recent surge in pirate activity off the coast of Somalia, and welcomed the positive action being taken by the EU counter-piracy operation ATALANTA in response.
High Representative Solana updated on his contacts with the Iranians following the E3+3's invitation to meet them. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary underlined the need for the EU to adopt a robust approach in support of the US Administrations decision to engage with Iran. Solana agreed that the EU should be ready to act.
Ministers also adopted conclusions on Iran, which the Government welcome, supporting the new direction of US policy; and calling upon Iran to engage seriously with the international community in order to find a negotiated solution to the nuclear issue which will address its national interests, while noting that the evolution of the EU's relations with Iran will also depend on it.
On Afghanistan/Pakistan, High Representative Solana said there was a need for the EU to be more creative on Pakistan. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary underlined the importance of a successful EU-Pakistan Summit in June. The Commission noted its contribution of €40 million (£36 million) to the Afghanistan elections.
High Representative Solana reported on his visit to Chisinau in the previous week. He said it was important the EU kept engaging with Moldova, through the Eastern Partnership and by negotiating a new agreement. Ministers welcomed the efforts of the high representative, presidency and EU special representative in bringing about agreement that the Moldovan Government would enter into a political dialogue with the Opposition, and conduct an inquiry into the human rights abuses that followed the post-election protests. There were no conclusions.
Some member states expressed concerns about the lack of a co-ordinated EU approach to the Durban Review Conference. My right honourable friend the
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