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Forestry in Scotland

Lord Taylor of Gryfe asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Scottish Office (Lord Sewel): Forestry is an important part of the rural scene in Scotland. Its importance will grow as timber production doubles over the next 15 years and Scotland's forests and woodlands become more valuable for recreation and wildlife. We believe that it is important to have a strategy for forestry in Scotland which will provide a context for forestry policies and programmes. This will ensure that forestry integrates well with other aspects of the rural economy and plays its full part in the future well-being of Scotland.

Clearly, the Scottish Executive will want to determine the form and content of a Scottish forestry strategy. Nevertheless, we consider that it would be helpful to prepare an issues paper which could form the basis for consultation on a strategy.

I have therefore asked the Forestry Commission to set this work in hand, in liaison with other relevant Government departments and agencies, with a view to publishing an issues paper early next year.

Sudan: Humanitarian Situation

Lord McNair asked Her Majesty's Government:

Baroness Amos: The Nuba Mountains are a conflict zone and civilians are being subjected to abuses from troops of both sides. In opposition-held areas there is diversion of humanitarian supplies leaving little for local people. There has been a large movement of people to the relative security of Government of Sudan areas, many of whom are held in "peace villages", set up by the government, where their freedom of movement is consequently restricted.

We remain concerned at the Government of Sudan's continued refusal to agree access to the Nuba Mountains

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by Operation Lifeline Sudan and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). We, together with the UN and ICRC will maintain pressure on the government to allow access to the Nuba and all vulnerable areas in the country.

Lord McNair asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they are able to provide information about, and details of, the killings, during the summer of this year, of members of the Operation Lifeline Sudan assessment mission in the Nuba Mountains incident; and whether this has delayed the delivery of Operation Lifeline Sudan food aid to the Nuba Mountains.[HL204]

Baroness Amos: We understand from the UN that on 9 June 1998 a World Food Programme (WFP) convoy and its police escort were attacked in South Kordofan, close to the Nuba Mountains, in territory held by the Government of Sudan (GOS). Three Sudanese personnel were killed, two from WFP and one from the Sudanese Red Crescent (SRC). Three more SRC personnel were injured. The incident occurred about 60 kilometres north east of Kadugli between the villages of Arie and Hadab. The WFP team had been returning from a food distribution to internally displaced people. They were not part of the OLS assessment team promised by Operation Lifeline Sudan as part of the Nuba Mountains access deal, which GOS had earlier agreed but subsequently refused.

Delivery of food aid is always adversely affected in instances of high insecurity currently prevailing in the Nuba Mountains and its surrounding area.

Lord McNair asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the assessment mission by Operation Lifeline Sudan in the Nuba Mountains that was attacked during the course of its work this summer was in any way in receipt of British funds.[HL205]

Baroness Amos: The Sudanese personnel who were attacked on 9 June 1998 were not members of the assessment mission. They were delivering food aid to internally displaced people in South Kordofan as part of the UN World Food Programme's Emergency Operation for Sudan, the funding of which was provided by donors, including the United Kingdom.

Lord McNair asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When the Government of Sudan first offered al-Obeid, Malakal and Khartoum airports to Operation Lifeline Sudan for use in its delivery of food aid; and what financial saving resulted from using them for the delivery of food aid rather than by relying in deliveries from Kenya.[HL208]

Baroness Amos: The Government of Sudan has offered the use of airports in the north of the country for relief flights to the south for some years. Northern air strips were used this year for the first time. The difference in cost is not yet known, but a major independent study of Operation Lifeline Sudan, undertaken in 1996, concluded that savings from

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sourcing relief flights from northern Sudan would be marginal.

Real savings for the relief effort will come from maximising land routes, including rail, for delivery of humanitarian assistance to vulnerable areas of southern Sudan. We are pressing the UN to make progress on this.

Lord McNair asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is their assessment of the food security, food supply and humanitarian situation in southern Sudan.[HL207]

Baroness Amos: The major effort made by humanitarian agencies in southern Sudan this year has succeeded in stabilising the situation. Mortality rates have fallen in some of the worst hit areas in the south. But it is clear that this year's harvest will not be sufficient to pull the region out of its difficulties. The UN World Food Programme confirms that it has sufficient resources until the end of March 1999; but beyond then we expect there to be a need for further substantial humanitarian assistance for at least another year. The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation is finalising its annual food crop assessment for Sudan which will predict food aid needs for the coming year. This will be incorporated into the 1999 UN Consolidated Appeal which will be released early in the new year.

Assisted Prison Visits Scheme

Lord Evans of Watford asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they will report on the assisted prison visits scheme.[HL303]

The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn): The assisted prison visits scheme exists to help prisoners maintain contact with their close relatives and partners. The scheme was established in 1988. To qualify for assistance in meeting the costs of travel to and from the prison the visitor must be in receipt of a low income benefit as administered by the Benefits Agency.

The scheme does not distinguish between married and non-married partners, but financial assistance is extended to same-sex partners only at the expense of support for a prisoner's family members. In

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consequence, some prisoners, including young offenders, do not receive visits from parents or close relatives.

The Government are keen to encourage all prisoners to maintain family ties, and believes that same-sex partners should be treated fairly by the Prison Service. Therefore, both partners and relatives will, in future, be able to receive assistance with the cost of visiting, within the qualifying conditions of the scheme.

Human Rights Convention: Compatibility of Bills

Lord Lester of Herne Hill asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will publish in the explanatory notes accompanying government Bills their reasons for concluding that Bills are compatible or incompatible with convention rights within the meaning of Section 19 of the Human Rights Act 1998.[HL158]

Lord Williams of Mostyn: We have no plans to do so. As we explained during the passage of the Human Rights Bill, we believe that the best forum in which to raise issues concerning the compatibility of a Bill with the convention rights is the parliamentary proceedings on the Bill.

As to what will appear in the explanatory notes concerning Section 19 statements, I refer the noble Lord to the answer I gave on 25 November (columns WA 1 to WA 2).

Prison Health Services: Review

Lord Clement-Jones asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When it is expected that the joint review by the Department of Health and the Home Office of the provision of health service for prisoners will be completed and its conclusion published.[HL125]

Lord Williams of Mostyn: Work on the joint review by the Prison Service and the Department of Health of the organisation and delivery of prison health services was completed at the end of October 1998. Department of Health and Home Office Ministers are considering carefully the review's findings and recommendations. I expect to be in a position to make an announcement early in the New Year.

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