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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. Gareth Thomas): On 20 March I attended a ministerial meeting in Geneva to discuss how best the international community can help deal with the conflict in northern Uganda.
The UK has long been a committed member of the international community's effort to support humanitarian assistance and conflict resolution in Uganda. We have been one of the largest humanitarian donors in Uganda over the last five yearsthis year we have provided over £20 million in humanitarian assistance.
The 20-year long insurgency by the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) has destroyed lives and communities in northern Uganda and resulted in 1.7 million people
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living in camps for internally displaced people. The humanitarian situation in these camps is a cause of considerable concerna WHO Health and Mortality survey in mid 2005 confirmed that the situation in the north is a humanitarian emergency.
Five LRA commanders have now had International Criminal Court arrest warrants issued for them. The UN Security Council agreed Resolution 1653 in January 2006, which identified the LRA as a threat to regional security. Mediation efforts have not made as much progress as we hoped they would. It is now time to redouble efforts to build a lasting and sustainable peace in northern Uganda.
The Ugandan government has primary responsibility to protect its citizens and to deal with the conflict and its humanitarian consequences. We welcome their willingness to work with international partners in doing this. A range of proposals for more political action and for alleviating the situation on the ground was discussed. These included improving coordination between the government of Uganda, UN agencies and others on the ground, and addressing issues such as conflict resolution, mitigating the effects of conflict, reintegration of formerly abducted children and ex-combatants, and humanitarian assistance.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Angela E. Smith): My Noble Friend Lord Rooker, the Minister of State for Northern Ireland has made the following ministerial statement:
The Government would like to express thanks to the many people and organisations that replied to the consultation document "Options for Forestry". The responses will be published on the Forest Service's website at: www.forestserviceni.gov.uk.
The responses confirmed the almost universal desire for more forests and woodlands for a number of reasons. These include the desire to improve our environment through tree planting; the perception that tree planting would assist in addressing a need for greater public access to the countryside; and the belief that tree planting would create an economic resource that could be exploited for energy and timber production.
There are many reasons why the amount of forest is low in NI. Nevertheless, the Government's vision is that, in the long-term, the amount of forest should be doubled so that people in NI will have access to the same level of forestry benefits as are available in the rest of the
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UK. The Government would like the private sector to take the lead in this. This is a challenging aspiration, however recent changes in agriculture, notably reform of the Common Agricultural Policy and the introduction of the Single Farm Payment, will provide additional confidence that forestry is a credible option for land use. To support this the Government will maximise the funding available under the Rural Development Regulation, subject to overall spending priorities.
The forestry strategy will be used to ensure that policies developed by different Departments are joined up. For example, DETI policies on developing renewable energy markets will create a demand for wood based energy, and forest design and management will support DOE policies on conserving biodiversity. The promotion of afforestation in areas close to settlements is also key in enabling the public to enjoy an improved quality of the environment.
The consultation paper pointed to the need to secure a balance of public benefits from forests. Government proposals to improve arrangements for forest management received a broad measure of support and these are adopted within the new Strategy. The more significant of these include:
Improving the statutory basis for the work programmes to be carried out by the Department. The 1953 Forestry Act is focused on wood production, and the Department proposes making provision for other aspects of a modern forestry policy. The Act shall be amended so that the Department will be required to balance the needs for timber production, environmental protection and recreational access, which more accurately reflects the work actually done by the Forest Service to-day.
Subject to this, the Government intend to create a statutory right of pedestrian access to most forests owned by the Department. This will complement the strategies promoted by local government and other public bodies to improve access to the countryside for recreation and tourism.
It is intended that the Department gain statutory powers to regulate tree felling and forest regeneration, to regulate the use of minor public roads for forestry, and to improve control of forest dwelling animals. This will help maintain the overall area of forest in Northern Ireland; it will help industry gain access to timber on affordable terms consistent with road safety considerations; and it will ensure that there is scope for public authorities to take action where wild animal populations threaten the success of the forestry programme.
There should also be fresh provision for the Department to compulsorily acquire land and ancillary rights over land. These powers will be used sparingly and in accord with the well-established rules for the use of such powers by the Civil Service.
The Government also intend to promote greater private sector participation in forestry by disposing of some plantations and by taking powers to participate in partnership arrangements with the private sector and other bodies. The Department should also gain provisions to develop some of its land for non-forest use.
Most of these decisions will require amendments to the Forestry Act that will be introduced in due course. In the interim Government officials will take forward these proposals as far as possible within the existing legislation.
The Government have considered the functions undertaken by the forest service and the arrangements for delivery of the forestry programme. The service now has a core business that includes maintaining the supply
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of timber, the restoration of areas harvested for timber and verifying the sustainable management of forest. This includes provision for the protection and enhancement of the environment. Along with responsibility for forest recreation, these core programmes will continue to be delivered on a regional basis by the forest service as an agency of the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development subject to the outcome of the review of Environmental Governance as announced by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland on 21 March 2006. In the meantime, the service should continue to focus on improving efficiency and effectiveness, and a series of measures to achieve this consistent with the Government's "Fit for Purpose" initiative have been approved. A small number of local government and other responses suggested it might be possible for the Department to work with them in developing local partnerships and this will be pursued.
The conclusions of the equality impact assessment carried out at the same time as the review had suggested that forest service policies largely had a positive impact on disadvantaged groups, and this has been endorsed by the responses received.
The development of forests and woods are important to the people of Northern Ireland. The strategy published by the forest service will create a vision for forest expansion and sustainable forest management that will ensure a lasting legacy will be handed on to future generations.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Angela E. Smith): In accordance with Article 81 of The Credit Unions (Northern Ireland) Order 1985 and Section 100 of the Industrial and Provident Societies Act (Northern Ireland) 1969, copies of the Credit Unions Annual Report 2005 have been placed today in the Libraries of both Houses.
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