Madame President [Vice-President]

[High Commissioner]

Excellencies, distinguished delegates

Ladies and gentlemen

I would like to begin by thanking His Excellency President Thabo Mbeki, the Government and the people of South Africa. for the warmth of their welcome to South Africa and to the city of Durban.

It is a great honour to lead the United Kingdom's delegation to this important Conference.

In recent years, I have had the privilege of working in South Africa and it is a pleasure to have the opportunity to return.

The friendship which exists between Britain and South Africa and between our people is of long standing and draws its strength from shared values and a. shared commitment to social justice and equality. We were honoured when President Mbeki visited the United Kingdom earlier this year to reinforce that friendship and partnership.

The energy in our relationship comes from our people. The respect, admiration and affection the British people hold for the people of South Africa is special. It: has the power, quite literally, to stop the traffic. In April this year, Trafalgar Square in London was brought to a stand-still when tens of thousands of people joined former President Mandela at a concert to Celebrate South Africa.

What we were celebrating on that memorable day was South Africa's diversity. In Britain, too, we draw strength from our diversity.

The multicultural nature of British society is one of the first things that you notice when you arrive in the UK. Our culture is born of the talents and creativity of many different groups - White, Black, Asian and other minorities. In London alone, nearly 200 languages other than English are spoken. A quarter of London's school pupils speak a language other than English at home.

We are proud that our global ties allow us to be part of and active in a multiplicity of fora including the European Union, the Council of Europe, the Commonwealth and the United Nations.

This Conference is grappling with complex and difficult issues. We all know that preparations have not been easy and that much remains to be done this week. But that in no way takes away from the importance of the issues under discussion.

Racism is a reality that affects us all. It manifests itself in different ways, in different parts of the world. It can be direct or indirect, individual or institutional. But. the hurt it inflicts on victims - and the damage it inflicts on our societies - requires strong leadership and commitment to action. By corning to Durban, we, as Governments,
are clear that racism has no place in the world of the 21 st Century. We are committing ourselves to removing racism from our societies.

This Conference also has a direct relevance to our situation in Britain. The fight against racism and racial discrimination is one of the most important we face today.

We have made progress nationally in recent years in tackling racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, anti-semitism and Islamophobia. But significant areas of concern remain.

Many of you will be aware of the violent disturbances in recent months between young people from different ethnic communities in the towns of Oldham, Bradford and Burnley. It is clear that the causes of these disturbances are deeply rooted in the structures of our society. We are doing everything we can to support local people in finding practical ways to bring communities together.

The catalyst for much of the British Government's work in recent years to tackle racism in our society has been the recommendations coming out of the inquiry into the death of Stephen Lawrence.

Stephen Lawrence was a talented black youth stabbed to death by a group of white youths while waiting for a bus with a friend in April 1993. No one has been convicted of the crime.

In 1997, the Government established an inquiry into Stephen's death. The inquiry report identified a collective failure of the police and other institutions to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture or ethnicity.

The report of the Stephen Lawrence inquiry led to a radical strengthening of the United Kingdom's race relations legislation.

The UK has also been a strong supporter of recent steps to tackle racism at the European Union level.

But Government policies alone cannot defeat racism. In the United Kingdom, our national bodies, the Commission for Racial Equality and the Northern Ireland Equality Commission, play a vital, independent role in monitoring and enforcing antidiscrimination legislation. Our trade unions have also been at the forefront of the fight against racism and racial discrimination. Representatives of these key national organisations are part of the UK delegation to this Conference.

We are also fortunate to have a strong and active civil society. Community organisations and NGOs are in the front-line of the fight against racism, both in the UK and internationally.

I am proud that a large number of NGOs from across the United Kingdom have been closely involved in preparations for this important Conference. Over the past two years, we have consulted them closely on issues across the Conference agenda. Many have come to Durban, including a group of young British people. We need to draw on their energy and problem-solving attitude in shaping the agenda for the future. They want to see a world free of racism, bigotry and discrimination. They want to see a world with equality and justice at its heart. And that is what we as a Government want too.

Coming out of this Conference we want a powerful new impetus to international efforts to tackle racism. The promotion and protection of human rights, including the right to be free from racial discrimination, are priorities for the British Government. We must leave Durban with renewed resolve to implement and adhere to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. The Conference must also inspire. We want a strong statement which looks unflinchingly at the past:. The European Union profoundly deplores the human suffering, both individual and collective, caused by slavery and the slave trade. They are amongst the most dishonourable and abhorrent chapters in the history of humanity. Such acts of acknowledgement, regret and condemnation will allow us to move forward in a spirit of hope and give us the basis on which to continue to tackle contemporary problems.

We also want the World Conference to identify concrete, practical measures that can make a difference in the fight against racism. From the beginning of this process, we have argued that this is ultimately how the success of the Conference will be judged.

Some important points have already been agreed. We have recognised the crucial role of education in tackling racism. Language has been agreed on empowering, women and girls vulnerable to racial discrimination. Consensus is also emerging on the role of the media, including new technologies, in promoting equality. We also have good proposals on the table endorsing the role of civil society.

I believe the proposal for National Action Plans will be crucial in taking forward the concrete recommendations from this Conference and putting them into practice.

The World Conference is not the end of process. We must use our collective voice and our collective powers as Governments t:o eradicate racism. It is only then that we will have served the people that we represent here. We must not let them down.