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Lord Janner of Braunstone: My Lords, can my noble friend confirm that while, as I have myself seen in the Palestinian territories recently, this aid is badly needed, and it is right that it should be given, she is satisfied that all possible steps are being taken to ensure that the aid reaches the people for whom it is intended?
Baroness Amos: My Lords, I am confident about that. We acknowledge that there is a degree of fiduciary risk in putting our aid through direct budget support. We undertook an appraisal of our contribution to the World Bank reform trust fund in line with our published policy on the provision of direct budget support. We look at the following criteria when we make decisions on budget support. We do a thorough evaluation of public financial management and accountability systems and associated risks. The recipient government need to have a credible
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programme to improve the standards of those systems. The potential development benefits have to justify the risk and the assessments are explicitly recorded as part of the decision-making process to provide assistance. In the case of the Palestinian Authority, we share the World Bank's assessment that there is some risk but that the level of risk is not unusual in countries where we provide budget support.
Lord Steel of Aikwood: My Lords, is the Minister aware that in my capacity as president of the charity, Medical Aid for Palestinians, I receive monthly reports from our people on the ground whom I last visited in the autumn? The report for April tells me that during the month of April 59 Palestinians were killed and 345 injured by the occupying forces, and that house demolitions, land levelling and confiscation continued to take place, notably in the areas for expansion of settlements and for constructing the wall. Leaving aside the need for a more rigorous political policy, as called for regularly in this House, including in yesterday's debate, is there not the maximum need for humanitarian aid in these desperate circumstances for the Palestinian people?
Baroness Amos: My Lords, I totally agree that there is need for humanitarian aid and that is precisely why the World Bank was asked to set up the trust fund, which is in addition to the money already going to the Palestinian Authority from a range of sources. The noble Lord will know that we are of the strong view that recent Israeli actions in Gaza have been disproportionate to the security threat. We have made that view well known. Home demolitions have been carried out as a form of collective punishment and therefore are in contravention of international law. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has made that absolutely clear and we were very pleased to support the recent UN Security Council resolution which also condemned that action.
Lord Judd: My Lords, does the Minister agree that if a dependency syndrome is not to develop, the economic activity of the Palestinian people is tremendously important? Will she assure the House that everything possible is being done bilaterally and through the European Union to enhance the trading opportunities for the Palestinian people?
Baroness Amos: My Lords, I totally agree with my noble friend that economic activity is important. We have seen a situation in the Palestinian Authority where 21 per cent of the population lived in poverty in 2000 to a situation now where some 60 per cent of the population are living in poverty. So, of course we need to increase economic activity but we also need to deal with the humanitarian crisis and to ensure that a political solution is found as soon as possible.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Whitty): My Lords, the red squirrel is protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 which prohibits any unauthorised killing, injuring, taking, possession, sale or disturbance in a place of shelter or protection.
Under the UK Biodiversity Action Plan an individual species action plan has been prepared for the red squirrel. The Red Squirrel Group, a partnership of public, private and voluntary organisations led by the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, is responsible for delivery of the red squirrel action plan.
Earl Peel: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Does he not agree that unless urgent action is taken, there is a real possibility that the red squirrel will become extinct in the United Kingdom? With regard to that, will he make a government commitment on two fronts? First, will he make a commitment that there will be proper research to try to eliminate the parapox virus, which is affecting the red squirrel so badly; and secondlyand perhaps more importantlythat there will be properly funded, government-led, co-ordinated efforts between the private sector and the public sector drastically to reduce the number of grey squirrelsthe alien specieswhich is the principal reason for the demise of the red population in the United Kingdom?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, as the House is well aware, the decline of the red squirrel population has been going on for decades and the areas in which they still exist are relatively few. Therefore, it is very important that we focus action to protect those areas, both to make sure that the habitat is appropriate for red squirrels and to minimise any danger of incursion by grey squirrels. The intention of the action plan is to focus exactly on those areas and there is positive action involving public authorities in partnership with private landowners, the Forestry Commission and others in those areas. Regarding the research into the disease, that is also continuing but we are not yet at a point where we can resolve all the questions in relation to that threat.
Lord Whitty: Yes, my Lords. In the areas where a red squirrel population still exists it is important that new tree plantations and the overall management of
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trees not only support a continuing population of red squirrels but, as far as is possible, that we use a mix of trees that is least amicable to the grey squirrel.
Lord Livsey of Talgarth: My Lords, will the Minister confirm that grey squirrels are some of the most destructive pests in the country? Not only do they drive out red squirrels, but they destroy trees, rob birds' nests and there was, indeed, one case of rabies as a result of one biting a human. Will the Minister confirm that there will be areas designated where grey squirrels can be cleared out so that red squirrels can flourish? Will he consider setting up a fund to save red squirrels, based on the presentation of a "pound for pound" schemeso to speakfor every grey squirrel tail presented?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, regarding the last point, we tried that in the 1950s and in fact the grey squirrel population went up quite dramatically, so it was not effective. Clearly, we need plans for those relatively few areas where red squirrels are present. That is the burden of the current activity. Grey squirrels are frequently a pest; they are not a protected species and people can destroy them, but the main focus must be protecting those few remaining areas where there are significant red squirrel populations.
Lord Clark of Windermere: My Lords, I declare an interest as chair of the Forestry Commission. Perhaps I may say how enthusiastic we are as an organisation to be in the vanguard fighting for the preservation of red squirrels. Can the Minister confirm that 80 per cent of the red squirrels in England are in the Kielder Forest in Northumberland and that most of the rest are in Cumbria? Will he pay particular attention to the preservation of Cumbrian red squirrels, given that there are many scientists who believe that those squirrels are the only indigenous English red squirrels extant?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, I join the noble Lord in applauding the activity of the Forestry Commission in this respectin partnership with many others. He is right that the Kielder Forest and Cumbrian red squirrels are by far the largest populations and therefore those on which much of the activity has to concentrate.
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