Previous Section Index Home Page



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 years—this 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
23 Mar 2006 : Column 31WS
living in camps for internally displaced people. The humanitarian situation in these camps is a cause of considerable concern—a 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.

At the meeting high-level delegations from the UK, US, Netherlands, Norway, and Canada sat down with various United Nation agencies as well as the Government of Uganda to discuss next steps.

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.

A further meeting is planned in a few weeks time in Kampala to take forward these proposals.



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 are pleased today to issue a written statement on Northern Ireland forestry policy and to publish a strategy for the growth and sustainability of forestry.

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:

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
23 Mar 2006 : Column 32WS
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:

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
23 Mar 2006 : Column 33WS
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.

Credit Unions Annual Report 2005

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.

Next Section Index Home Page