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23 Jan 2007 : Column 439WH—continued

Mr. Harris: I fully accept that. I reiterate my earlier point: provided that the review has been completed, Tesco should make its consultant’s report public. The HSE investigation has thoroughly explored the role of all relevant parties and considered all credible causes of
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the incident. It remains of the view that the cause was related to the way in which infill material was being loaded on to the concrete arch structure. The removal of the collapsed structure from the railway was undertaken by Jackson Civil Engineering and it was overseen by Network Rail. HSE specialist investigators gave advice during the clear-up to ensure that the huge task was completed as quickly as possible. A full engineering assessment of the tunnel was undertaken and verified independently. It involved a complex review of the design’s site records, a specialist engineering assessment and a detailed survey of the structure.

Some remedial works were undertaken to adjust backfill loading on the arch sections and to enable continuous monitoring of the structure. The line reopened for trains on 2 August 2005. All parties involved, including the HSE, were content that it was and remains safe to run trains through the remaining tunnel sections.

The material stored at Brentford Grange farm was to be used as construction material at the Tesco site in Gerrards Cross. The hon. Gentleman said that the material known as incinerated bottom ash aggregate is a secondary aggregate processed from the ash that is created from the high-temperature incineration of municipal waste. The material used at Gerrards Cross was supplied from incinerators at Edmonton, north London, and Rainham in Essex. It is important to stress that the material is inert; it does not contain high levels of toxic heavy metals. Chemical analysis of IBAA shows up below the detection limits of heavy metals deemed acceptable by the Environment Agency.

Further, the use of the material in the construction project was approved by the Environment Agency and by Network Rail, and it was accepted by South Buckinghamshire district council, the local planning authority.

Mr. Grieve: I have also prosecuted incinerator contamination, so I am familiar with the fact that bottom ash may be used for several purposes. The Minister will appreciate, however, the distinction between bottom ash as fill over a tunnel that will be capped with tarmac, and bottom ash blowing in the wind around a local community and landing in people’s vegetable gardens. There is anxiety, and I am not completely content that the Environment Agency has provided reassurance on that wider issue.

Mr. Harris: Were I to be in the hon. Gentleman’s position as constituency MP, I would have exactly the same concerns. I do not want to sound like I am passing the buck, but he will appreciate that the conditions of any planning permission are not for the Department to enforce. I none the less welcome any move to ensure that enforcement measures are considered when a construction company has such materials to hand and does not make the proper arrangements to contain them and to stop them contaminating people’s gardens and property.

I have served on the same Committees and attended various debates with the hon. Gentleman, and the number of people and the categories of individuals whom he has prosecuted in a past life continue to grow. I look forward to hearing what new additions there are in the future.

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Decisions relating to any future reconstruction of the structure are a matter for Tesco. There is no firm date set for that. However, management of the construction work will need to comply with the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 1994 and will be overseen by the HSE’s construction inspectors.

When completed, the structure over the railway will be subject to approval by the Office of Rail Regulation under the requirements of the Railways and Other Transport Systems (Approvals of Works, Plant and Equipment) Regulations 1994—obviously. That approval will extend only to the functionality of the work and its effect on the safe operation of the railway; it will not consider the structural elements or the method of construction.

In summary, the incident naturally created much local concern and it had a severe impact on railway operations. It was only by the quick thinking of railway staff that a serious accident with multiple casualties was avoided. The clear-up operation and detailed site assessment enabled Network Rail to reopen the railway line as quickly as it could, once all key parties were satisfied that there was no risk of a further collapse.

The complex investigation into the cause of the collapse is still under way. It has gathered a large quantity of evidence and it will reach a conclusion soon. I understand that Chiltern Railways, Network Rail and Tesco are keeping stakeholders informed of events.

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1.30 pm

Mr. Eric Joyce (Falkirk) (Lab): The great lakes region of Africa is emerging from a long and terrible period of violence and dictatorship. Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and now the Democratic Republic of the Congo have democratically elected Governments. The economies of Uganda and Rwanda in particular are being kick-started and there are many reasons to be mildly optimistic about the future of the region. Eastern Congo remains lawless, of course, and the writ of the Kinshasa Government does not yet run there in any true conventional sense. That lawlessness as a function of civil war, poverty and history continues to be fuelled in no small part by the existence of marauding bands of bandits formally associated with neighbouring countries that have at one time or another occupied parts of the country.

Today I want to focus on the problem of the Lord’s Resistance Army, which still occupies part of eastern Congo and has conducted a 20-year campaign in and around northern Uganda. In that time many children have been abducted and forced into military service, many people in northern Uganda have lost limbs and many have lost their lives. The suffering of the people of northern Uganda has been beyond expression at times.

I come to the subject as chair of the all-party group on the great lakes region and genocide prevention. Just over a year ago, a delegation from the all-party group, including my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew), visited northern Uganda and met President Yoweri Museveni. The report of the visit reiterated the extent of human suffering the conflict in northern Uganda has caused. At the time many thought that the International Criminal Court indictments of the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army, Joseph Kony, and of several of his close associates, which were delivered while the mission was still in the field, signalled that the window for possible peace talks between the Lord’s Resistance Army and the Ugandan Government had closed. Kony seemed unprepared to talk and President Museveni had urged the ICC to take up the case.

When the group subsequently met President Museveni in London, it seemed that little had changed. The president had decided that if the LRA would not lay down its arms and if Uganda were not to be permitted by the international community effectively to invade the Democratic Republic of the Congo, it was up to the ICC to take charge of the situation. The ICC did that and there has apparently been a considerable turnround in many respects. The LRA has apparently taken part in talks in Juba, although—to put it in the most positive way—things are moving extremely slowly.

It is estimated that 1,000 people a week in the region are dying as a result of the conflict. Children are still the principal victims of the violence: an estimated 1,500 are still in LRA ranks and at least 10,000 remain unaccounted for. It is worth emphasising the abominable extent of the crimes conducted in the course of the conflict. Some 20,000 to 25,000 children
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have been abducted and made to work as field wives, child soldiers, and porters of weaponry; often they have been forced to mutilate or kill friends and relatives. Tens of thousands of other people in the region have become night commuters, walking long distances every night into towns to try to avoid attack. Members of the all-party group met some of those children at the Noah’s Ark shelter in Gulu. The founder of the Concerned Parents Association, a remarkable non-governmental organisation formed in response to the abductions and killings, told the all-party group the harrowing tale of her daughter: kidnapped by the rebels in a notorious attack on the Aboke girls’ school, she was forced to become the wife of a commander and was held for seven years before she managed to escape and return home.

The group’s visit to Koch Goma internally displaced person camp was perhaps the most striking and depressing experience of its time in Uganda. As at other camps, the inhabitants live in fear. The day before the visit, residents who had gone to tend nearby fields had fled in panic after coming across signs of LRA presence. At a memorable meeting with the group, residents described an incident in May 2005 in which 16 people were killed and two abducted when the LRA attacked the camp. When the assembled crowd was asked who had lost someone to the LRA through murder or abduction, virtually every hand went up.

I believe it is incumbent on anyone who wants to help alleviate that suffering to put the present victims at the top of the international agenda. If there is a way to make it stop, we have to help to find it and the sooner the better. There is another agenda, however, and that is to seek to prevent such things from happening in future. That agenda is served by making it clear that the perpetrators of the world’s worst crimes against humanity are held responsible and punished for the atrocities that they commit. The present situation in northern Uganda, with a temporary ceasefire in place while negotiations take place to make it permanent, I hope, is therefore extremely sensitive.

At face value, that appears to be a Catch-22 situation. There is no doubt that atrocities have taken place over many years, and that cannot be ignored under any circumstances. That is why the ICC has indicted a number of LRA suspects. However, discussions imply movement on both sides. Such movement brings with it, one assumes, the possibility of damaging the ICC process and the crucial role that it will play in preventing future atrocities. It is essential not to find a messy compromise, but to serve both objectives—to stop the violence, while also holding to account those responsible for violence in the past.

For those on the ground, that will be a challenge of the greatest proportions. For sure, the August 2006 cessation of hostilities agreement has so far led to increased safety, confidence and hope. With assistance from non-governmental organisations such as Christian Aid, Oxfam, Tearfund, and Save the Children, schools are being rebuilt and there is better access to health care. The improved security has allowed NGOs much better access to camps for families who have been forced from their homes by fighting. Displaced people have been able to move to
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new settlement sites, which are often closer to their homes and have access to farmland. New fighting and a return to terror tactics in northern Uganda could destroy all that progress, so we need to do what we can as an important member of the international community to prevent that from happening, if that is possible.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): I thank my hon. Friend for giving way and congratulate him on securing this debate. Does he accept that one of the problems is that many of the refugees are based around Juba, in southern Sudan? We all know that Sudan is a unstable country. There is a need to bring the peace talks to an early closure, hopefully with peace at the end of them, so that we can have peace in the whole sub-region.

Mr. Joyce: I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. It is crucial that the talks should come to a successful conclusion, because the whole region is interlinked. My interest extends out of what was a terrible mess in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, which came about through all sorts of terrible events, arising primarily after the Rwandan genocide of 1994. All those problems are interlinked, and we can deal with them only if we deal with them all together. That will sometimes mean a gradational move in each set of negotiations.

Members of the all-party group and I have had the good fortune of meeting both President Museveni and many of the key actors in the region. The latter include the Juba mediation team, the ICC, and various experts who are close to the process. There have been many false dawns and there are many serious obstacles to overcome, but the process has the potential to make more progress than we might have expected a year or so ago.

The talks are delicate and at a critical stage, and many observers perceive a possibly dangerous loss of momentum. I hope that the Government will ensure that anything that can be done to contribute to a successful outcome will be done. I very much welcome the UK’s contribution of £250,000 to facilitate the talks process, but I also note the recent International Crisis Group report, which found that mediation efforts have so far suffered from a lack of capacity. Will the Minister make clear the UK’s continued appropriate support for the peace process, both politically and materially?

Kerry McCarthy (Bristol, East) (Lab): I thank my hon. Friend for giving way and congratulate him on securing this debate. I was in Uganda with Oxfam in September last year. I am sure that he is aware that over the past few days, if not the past couple of weeks, the Lord’s Resistance Army has started to say that it does not have any confidence in the fact that the peace talks are being held in southern Sudan. The LRA does not see the Sudanese Government as impartial and has suggested that another country, such as Kenya, Tanzania or others, could be used to host the talks. Would my hon. Friend comment on that, and also on the fact that the African Union has so far been reluctant to get involved?

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Mr. Joyce: I thank my hon. Friend for that. Mr. Chissano has been appointed to mediate on that important issue. He will have to face a decision. The LRA has suggested that it might like the comfort of a hotel in Kenya for the next few years, instead of getting on with things in Juba. Sometimes, we have to take rumours as being exactly that. People on the ground will understand what they mean and be able to interpret them. I am concerned by what some of the LRA negotiators may have said recently about continuing at Juba, but at the moment, we must hold fire. They should crack on and continue at Juba because there is a worry that if they move to another location they might simply get bogged down and stay there for the next few years.

On the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, East (Kerry McCarthy), it has been suggested—this may be a cynical view—that the current talks are a ruse for the Government of Uganda to keep the heat off until after the Commonwealth Heads of Government conference in November. Supposedly, the Ugandan army has been deploying in sensitive areas, and President Museveni has not given any ground in the talks so far. It is important to note that he is, more or less, the democratically elected president of a UN-recognised state and that the LRA is a somewhat different entity. I put it no stronger than that. There is an argument about moral equivalence. We should not be too hard on President Museveni, who has faced a threat over his border and has not been allowed to pursue the enemy because we have not permitted him to make an incursion into another country.

It would help if the Government would make it clear that a resolution of the conflict is at the heart of their policy and interests. The spotlight will be firmly on Uganda in November as we approach the Commonwealth Heads of Government conference that it is hosting. A sound and durable peace process would be a huge and laudable achievement to showcase to the world.

In order to reach a solution to the conflict, underlying issues that contributed to it must be addressed, particularly the apparent underdevelopment of services in northern Uganda in comparison with other parts of the country. In many ways, Uganda is a great success story. The film, “The Last King of Scotland”, shows what a mess it was in before President Museveni. Some might say that he has not always done the right thing recently, but there is now universal primary education across Uganda and it leads the region in many laudable ways.

There may be arguments for separating talks on the future of the LRA from discussions on the wider issues of development in northern Uganda. Any such talks should involve not only the LRA, but a wider and, one might argue, far more legitimate representation of the people of northern Uganda. It is particularly important that civil society organisations should attend such talks. Will the Minister reassure us that whenever and wherever appropriate, the Government will be ready to make an appropriate contribution to such efforts quickly, whether to the negotiations or to the relationship between the Ugandan Government and northern Uganda on the ground? I am sure that that
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has already been done, but it is a good idea to flag up such considerations when one gets a chance such as this.

One of the most difficult issues in the talks is the indictments of the ICC. I flag this up again because it is a core problem. It is imperative that the ICC is supported as a tool of international accountability. The question is whether any overlap exists between the overriding need to maintain the credibility of the court and the need to find a solution in the talks that will end the violence in the region. I know that if such overlap exists, the UK Government will do what they can to assist people to exploit it.

I sense that the ICC does not see itself as a blunt instrument. It is aware of the reality on the ground for the people of northern Uganda, such as the Acholi people. I would like to find a way forward that maintains its authority and does the best for northern Ugandans. The danger is that if the ICC takes an unnecessarily blinkered approach, it may simply say that the writ of the ICC has to be upheld, and people will have to pay for that on the ground. It appears, however, from recent ICC comments and our contact with it, that its position is much more sophisticated than that, which I am extremely glad to see.

Judy Mallaber (Amber Valley) (Lab): It has been suggested that some of the trials could be dealt with in Uganda rather than at the ICC. What confidence does my hon. Friend have that the Ugandan justice system is sufficiently robust to handle such trials?

Mr. Joyce: That question addresses a core point. Let me tie my answer in with the point that I was about to make about separating indictees from non-indictees. The rule with the International Criminal Court is that if a state is unable or unwilling to deal with a case, it should be referred to the ICC. I may be wrong, but as far as I can see, Uganda has the capability, but not the political will, for various other reasons—I do not mean that in a pejorative sense—and that is why the matter was referred. However, President Museveni has now changed his mind and would like to deal with it within Uganda.

My view is that the Ugandan system could deal with the matter, but I think that, in practical terms, it would have to separate off the indictees, who would have to go through a full, proper judicial process, from other processes—perhaps judicial or quasi-judicial processes tied in with traditional justice mechanisms in Uganda, such as we have seen in Rwanda and Burundi. That might be a possibility for the non-indictees. There are 1,500 people, many of whom could be integrated back into Uganda without, perhaps, a formal judicial process. That is why I think that the focus on the indictees needs to be held up.

It is also worth saying that if a proper judicial process was gone through and it was acceptable to the ICC—I am hypothesising here on the basis of relatively little knowledge of the law—President Museveni might well be more influential on what would happen to the indictees were they to be found guilty. He may be able to influence an outcome subsequent to those trials that is appropriate for all concerned.

The international community has a powerful responsibility to get to grips with the situation. There is a window of opportunity. The issue is not something
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for which the British Government are wholly responsible, but we are an enormous force for good right across the great lakes region. We are the highest funders of foreign aid, arguably, in Rwanda, in Burundi and in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. We have a long and strong relationship with the Ugandans. They are a great success story and I hope that we can help to sort out the problem in northern Uganda in relatively short order.

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