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Durban II

Volume 475: debated on Tuesday 13 May 2008

1. What assessment he has made of the progress made at the April preparatory meeting for Durban II on racism. (204795)

The United Kingdom wants the Durban review conference to contribute to the global fight against racism. The preparatory work is ongoing, but there should be no repeat of the disgraceful anti-Semitism that blighted events surrounding the 2001 world conference against racism.

With Libya chairing the preparatory committee and Cuba and Iran supporting it as officers, the signs are not too good. Can the Minister assure us that if there is even the slightest whiff of anything comparable to the disgrace of the first Durban conference, the United Kingdom will not participate?

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend and to other hon. Members in all parts of the House who played such an important part in the all-party inquiry into anti-Semitism. My hon. Friend is right that there have been dreadful comments and behaviour of an anti-Semitic nature in previous gatherings of that type. I wish to be clear that the UK Government will play no part in a gathering that displays such behaviour. We will continue to work to make sure that the conference is a success, but we will play no part in an international conference that exhibits the degree of anti-Semitism that was disgracefully on view on the previous occasion.

Although the Minister’s comments are welcome, and his remarks about the anti-Semitism group are equally welcome, does he agree that it is interesting that Canada, whose Government are one of the most responsible and friendly with whom we ever have dealings, has already decided not to attend the conference? Is he in touch with the Canadian Government about their reasons for doing so?

The hon. Gentleman was another important contributor to the all-party inquiry and it is right to put that on record. We are in touch with international partners on this serious issue. One of the reasons why the Canadian Government withdrew, as I understand it, is that unacceptable conditions were placed on a Jewish non-governmental organisation from Canada, initiated by the Iranian authorities. We continue to discuss that with Canada and other international partners and that dialogue will continue. If it gets to a point that we come to the view that the conference cannot be a success, the option of withdrawal from the conference remains available to us.