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The Secretary of State for International Development (Hilary Benn): I visited northern Uganda on 15 and16 May to look at the situation on the ground and to discuss the conflict and other issues affecting our development partnership with President Museveni and his Foreign Minister, Sam Kutesa.
The security situation in northern Uganda has improved over the last year, as Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) numbers have declined in the face of better performance by Uganda's army and less freedom of movement for the LRA in southern Sudan. LRA attacks have fallen, and some of those displaced by conflict in the eastern part of the region have started to return home. But there are still 2 million people displaced, 1.7 million of whom are living in camps. Fear of the LRA remains strong, especially in the Acholi districts of Kitgum, Gulu and Pader. One young girl I spoke to still walks four hours every day there and back to sleep at a night centre as she has done since 2003 for fear of abduction. People will not
go home until they are quite certain it is safe to do so. A significant number of the LRA are now active in Garamba national park in the north-eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), including leaders who have been indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC). This adds to regional insecurity.
The humanitarian effort, including the £20 million provided by DFID in 2004-05, has improved conditions in the camps. But the camps are crowded and there are major challenges in providing essential services. I visited Padibe camp in Kitgum district where 35,000 displaced people still live. In the Health Centre, there were only a handful of health workers, no doctor present, beds had no mattresses to hand, there was a shortage of drugs, and no ARVs for HIV-positive patients. Less than six litres of water are available per person per day compared to a humanitarian target of 15 litres per person per day. There is a cholera outbreak in the region. The humanitarian situation continues to demand our attention.
In my discussions with President Museveni and his Foreign Minister, I emphasised that greater effort was needed to address the humanitarian situation and as security allows to help people return home. We agreed that the Joint Monitoring Committee recently established by the Government and including the core group of bilateral donors (UK, US, Netherlands and Norway), the UN and civil society should help achieve this provided there was an agreed and effectively monitored plan. I made a commitment to continued substantial humanitarian assistance from the UK and for help with recovery when this becomes possible.
I welcomed President Museveni's discussions with the government of southern Sudan about tackling the LRA, but emphasised that ICC's warrants against the LRA leadership had to be enforced. I also emphasised that the regional integrity of the DRC must be respected. We agreed that a Special Envoy could have an important role to play in achieving the regional cooperation required to deal effectively with the LRA.
I also emphasised the importance of the government working with the opposition in the new Parliament to strengthen political pluralism and to help achieve an effective and accountable parliamentary process. I raised the care of Dr Kiiza Besigye and President Museveni assured me that due process will be followed in his High Court trial. I also discussed the President's commitment in his election manifesto and subsequent public statements to tackle corruption. Promoting good governance in Uganda is an important priority for the UK.
The Secretary of State for International Development (Hilary Benn): On 17 May 2006, I visited: Wajid, the United Nations' logistics hub for the drought relief operation in Southern Somalia to which DFID has contributed £12 million; and Baidoa, the temporary seat of the Somalia Transitional Federal Parliament (TFP) and Government (TFG).
In Wajid, I saw at first hand the effect of the drought: firstly in an Action Contre Le Faim (ACF) therapeutic feeding centre for malnourished children brought from
distances of up to 50 km, and then in a camp occupied by about 11,000 people who were living in terrible conditions under very basic shelters, and being fed by the World Food Programme. Now that some rain has arrived, the menfolk have returned to their homes to begin cultivation. However, the harvest will not come for several months, and the families in the camps will need to be cared for in the meantime. I was also able to visit a UNICEF-organised tent school in the camp, where about 300 children and an equal number of boys and girls are enjoyingvery basic primary education for the first time in their lives. UN agency and Non-Governmental Organisation representatives told me that despite the logistical and security problems of working in Somalia, the relief effort had averted a humanitarian disaster, and while I was there I committed a further £2 million to support what I hope will be post-drought operations.
In Baidoa, I called on President Abdulahi Yusuf Ahmed, Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi, and Parliamentary Speaker Sharif Hassan Sheik Adan, the leaders of the Transitional Institutions. I was struck by the warmth of their welcome, and how, having earlier this year buried their differences, they are trying to build a new administration from absolutely nothing, working from loaned properties including a warehouse converted into a parliamentary chamber. Despite their great fragility, these transitional institutions represent the best hope for taking Somalia forward from over15 years of internal conflict, which sadly has continued with recent fighting in Mogadishu. The President and Prime Minister emphasised the urgent need for support to educationnot currently available to the vast majority (about 80 per cent.) of childrenand I was able to announce plans for a new £6 million DFID partnership programme with UNICEF and others over three years.
Building the new institutions, and the systems to bring internal reconciliation, security and stability as pre-requisites for development, will take time, butsome progress is being made. I committed a further £1.5 million to the UNDP-led institutional support programme to the Transitional Institutions.
We must all hope that the political transition in Somalia, fragile though it still is, will start to bring the stability and security for which the ordinary people of that country have been yearning for so many years. The UK will continue to provide support to the Somali Transitional Institutions to that end.
Treasury Counsel is appointed by the Attorney General. In the light of the increase in the complexity of cases prosecuted by Treasury Counsel and the need to ensure that appointments are open and fair, I commissioned a review of the current Treasury Counsel arrangements. The review team, comprising Dru Sharpling, the Chief Crown Prosecutor for Crown Prosecution Service, London;
Mohammed Aziz, Commissioner at the Commission for Racial Equality; Philip Oliver, a non-executive director of the Crown Prosecution Service and Richard Ferguson QC, has delivered a report to me that includes 23 recommendations, which I have accepted.
In the course of their work, the review team consulted widely, including members of the judiciary, Treasury Counsel, chairman of the Bar Council and the Crown Prosecution Service and other barristers. Additionally, the CPS conducted, on behalf of the review team, an independent consultation exercise from an equalities perspective. I am placing a copy of the review team's report in the Library of the House.
The recommendations should ensure that Treasury Counsel is appointed in accordance with open and fair competition rules that promote equality and diversity, whilst maintaining the high standards of service provided by them. Other important recommendations address new ways of monitoring the performance of Treasury Counsel, which delivers a valuable service to the public.
The addendum to the report sets out proposals for the appointment of Treasury Counsel outside London and an alternative approach for dealing with serious criminal cases that would not be conducted at the Central Criminal Court.
The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Dr. Stephen Ladyman): In July 2004 the Secretary of State for transport announced the creation of the Transport Innovation Fund (TIF). The Fund will support:
the costs of smarter, innovative local transport packages that combine demand management measures, such as road pricing, with measures to encourage modal shift, and better bus services;
local mechanisms which raise new funding for transport schemes; and
regional, inter-regional and local schemes that are beneficial to national productivity.
Today I am publishing further guidance on our approach to the first of these objectives, setting out the criteria we intend to use to assess bids for a second round of pump priming to support scheme development. Copies of the guidance are available from the Department for Transport (DfT) web site at www.dft.gov.uk and in the Library of the House.
The TIF represents a new approach by the Department for Transport (DfT) to the allocation of some of its budget. Through the TIF, resources will be directed towards the achievement of two high priority objectivesspecifically tackling congestion and improving productivity. The principle underlying the TIF is that resources should be allocated on the basis of an assessment of how these objectives can be most effectively and sustainably met. The provision of pump priming funding only applies to congestion TIF schemes.
The Future of Transport White Paper identified the risk that, despite effective policies to promote smarter choices and network management, without radical measures, including more effective demand management, road congestion will spread over time to longer periods in the day, and to more road users. This
would have negative impact on both quality of life and on the economy. Local road pricing schemes are also important in order to pilot technology and systems and to inform the decisions on the development of national road pricing in the longer term.
We recognise that the development and appraisal of such packages will be a complex and costly process for many local authorities. That is why the Government decided to offer a limited number of local authorities some financial assistance with scheme development in advance of substantive congestion TIF funding. In July 2005 it was announced that up to £18 million was set aside between 2005-06 and 2007-08. The first allocations were made to seven areas in November 2005. The guidance published today covers the second allocation of funding.
It explains the basis on which DfT intends to allocate this pump priming funding for the second round and sets out the information that will be required from local authorities intending to bid. The guidance applies both to authorities considering putting forward new proposals and to authorities who successfully obtained funding in the first round of pump priming and who wish to apply for further funding. Eligibility for funding is restricted to local authorities in England.
The process for allocating pump priming funding is separate from the process of allocating the main TIF. Full guidance on the TIF was published in January 2006. It is not necessary to have had a successful pump-priming bid in order to apply for funding to the TIF through the congestion entry point. Nor does a successful pump-priming bid offer any guarantee of success in a bid for main TIF scheme funding.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Derek Twigg): The Department for Transport have this morning published a progress report describing the substantial amount of work carried out in renewing and upgrading this key railway route, along with the commitments due for completion by the end of 2008.