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House of Lords

Tuesday, 28 February 2006.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: the LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Newcastle.


The Lord Bishop of Winchester asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Triesman): My Lords, ending the conflict in northern Uganda is a government priority. We encourage the Government of Uganda to fulfil their responsibilities, including taking all steps to protect the people, to effect the International Criminal Court warrants for the Lords Resistance Army commanders and to encourage LRA members not indicted to benefit from amnesty provisions. We also recognise the conflict's growing regional impact, and we were instrumental in securing the adoption of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1653 on the Great Lakes condemning the LRA.

The Lord Bishop of Winchester: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. Granted the scale of the humanitarian and cultural disaster throughout northern Uganda inflicted over 19 years by the LRA, I have two specific questions arising from his Answer. First, will the Government encourage the Government of Uganda to declare the north a disaster zone and invite outside assistance of every appropriate kind? Secondly, will the Government urgently seek enhanced mandates for the UN forces in the DRC and in Sudan to enable and require them to attempt to capture Kony and his lieutenants for the ICC if they are in those countries?

Lord Triesman: My Lords, I do not know whether the declaration of a disaster zone on its own would make a fundamental difference, but offers are available to the Government of Uganda in relation to the LRA. They have not accepted such offers thus far, although I wish that they would. If it is necessary to extend the MONUC or any other mandate—in the case of Darfur, of course, it is an AU mandate—we would seek that as well. In the case of MONUC it could be very important.

Lord Renton: My Lords, before asking my question, perhaps I should mention that many years ago I was made chairman of the parliamentary delegation that went to Uganda to declare its independence. When we left, we were very worried about whether it would have
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true independence and be governed by itself. Is there any hope of the present Government of Uganda accepting any British or other gathering of experienced people to help them to overcome their present problems?

Lord Triesman: My Lords, if we reflect on where Uganda was 15 or 20 years ago and where it is now, we see that it has been one of the success stories of Africa. There has just been a general election with a substantial turnout, in which President Museveni was re-elected with a substantial majority. I do not know whether the election was flawless, but all immediate reports suggest that it was very credible. We are not starting with a blank sheet of paper in Uganda and there are problems but, today, we should perhaps think of its success rather than anything else.

Baroness Cox: My Lords, is the Minister aware that I have just returned from northern Uganda, where I was appalled by the scale of suffering? At least 25,000 children have been abducted by the LRA, thousands of children have to commute every night to shelters to avoid abduction, and 90 per cent of the population live in camps where hundreds die every week. Might Her Majesty's Government encourage the Government of Uganda to provide free education, at least, for children who escape from the LRA? They yearn for that to rebuild their lives; they cannot afford it and are living in total despair.

Lord Triesman: My Lords, the damage inflicted by Kony, Otti and other such criminals on the children of Uganda must be a tragic lesson for us all. We have certainly encouraged free primary education throughout Africa. That was part of the Commission for Africa report and has been part of the financial basis of debt relief and aid. We most certainly encourage that in Uganda, as elsewhere, and will continue to do so.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, notwithstanding what the Minister said in his Answer to the right reverend Prelate about the failure of Mr Museveni to invite any help from us or from the United Nations, does he not agree that, with the killing of the UN peacekeepers in the DRC and the abduction of 38 people in southern Sudan, it is now an international matter that constitutes a threat to the peace? Will the Minister therefore consider bringing a resolution before the Security Council to appoint a mobile task force separate from MONUC and UN forces in Sudan, with the capacity to move throughout the border region and apprehend the war criminals who need to be brought before the ICC?

Lord Triesman: My Lords, there is strong evidence that the MONUC forces in the eastern DRC have pursued the Lords Resistance Army at great personal cost. Seven Guatemalan soldiers were not only killed but, probably, brutally tortured by the LRA. Even in the light of such circumstances, neither MONUC nor the Government of Uganda have asked for additional
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forces. We must ensure that the mandate is fully operated; that there is vigorous and effective pursuit of the LRA in northern Uganda by the Government of Uganda, who have consistently said that they would; and that the Government of Sudan take their full part with the Government of Uganda, who can chase and apprehend in southern Sudan.

Lord Howarth of Newport: My Lords, will the Government give technical and practical support to make possible a serious and competent United Nations effort to capture the LRA leaders and bring them to justice in the International Criminal Court, while taking advantage of our long-standing relationship with President Museveni and substantial investment in Uganda, through DfID, to insist that the internally displaced Acholi people are released from the camps and given every practical support to enable them to live once again on their own lands?

Lord Triesman: My Lords, I share my noble friend's view. The desirable outcome must be that the people of northern Uganda get away from the camps and back to their farms and livelihoods. We must use every effort to ensure that they do. President Museveni has assured me personally that he is committed to ending the conflict and will try to do so. If we can provide aid, we should do that, but ours should be conscious aid in the knowledge that they are combating a most brutal and lethal force that has operated and continues to operate in that area. That difficulty does not absolve us from any responsibility.

Lord Judd: My Lords, will my noble friend assure the House that the Government will make place in their plans for support of non-governmental organisations and, indeed, traditional chiefs who are working to bring about reconciliation and peace? Will he also assure the House that the Government will find room to support organisations providing support and counselling to the victims of violence and to returning rebels, especially youngsters?

Lord Triesman: My Lords, we have financially supported a number of NGOs and Betty Bigombe's efforts to get reconciliation. However, we must face the reality that there will be no reconciliation with Kony and Otti. They are used to bloodshed and murder, from which they must be broken.

Police: Reorganisation

2.45 pm

Lord Elton asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): My Lords, initial estimates provided by the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Association of Police Authorities to the
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tripartite finance working group range from £430 million to £600 million. We are working closely with Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary and consultants to test the financial robustness of those figures. That is ongoing work, and it would be premature for me to comment further. HMIC has demonstrated that restructuring will lead to significant savings, and in some regions it is likely that those could commence within two to three years of merger.

Lord Elton: My Lords, in expending such considerable sums, I presume that the Government must be confident that what they are doing is in accordance with the will of the communities that those police services exist to serve and protect. What steps have the Government taken to establish the views of those communities about the proposals and what are those views?

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