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Written Statements

Volume 404: debated on Thursday 8 May 2003

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Written Ministerial Statements

Thursday 8 May 2003

Environment, Food And Rural Affairs

Sites Of Special Scientific Interest

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
(Mr. Elliot Morley)

I have today placed in the House Library copies of the Code of Guidance, Sites of Special Scientific Interest: Encouraging Positive Partnerships. This Code applies to England only. It was laid in Parliament on 5 February and debated in the House of Commons on 26 February. Approval was given in the House of Commons on 4 March and it was debated and approved in the House of Lords on 4 April. The new Code reflects the substantial changes in legislation governing sites of special scientific interest (SSSIs) introduced by the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 and replaces with immediate effect the existing Code of Guidance published in 1982.As required by section 33 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, the Code sets out advice, recommendations and information for everyone involved in managing SSSIs, including English Nature, public and private bodies, and individual owners and occupiers. It is also a valuable reference for those whose activities and functions might be affected by the legislation protecting SSSIs, or whose activities might have an impact on SSSIs. It imposes no additional burdens on owners or occupiers, and helps establish a clear understanding of the basic legislative regime for protecting and enhancing our SSSIs.SSSIs are the best examples of our natural heritage of wildlife habitats, geological features, and landforms. Over one million hectares of land, or 7 per cent. of the total area of England is designated as SSSI. By increasing understanding of the framework for their protection and management, the Code will be an important step towards the Government's PSA target to ensure 95 per cent. of the SSSI area is in favourable condition by 2010, and to achieving the objectives of the biodiversity strategy for England, published in October last year.

Foreign And Commonwealth Affairs

Global Opportunities Fund

I am today launching the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Global Opportunities Fund (GOF) to support the Government's key foreign policy objectives. The Fund was established in the last spending review with an allocation of £120 million for the next three years.

The GOF will be used to support existing programmes on human rights and legal reform, democracy and good governance, the environment and international security. The GOF will also support our growing science and technology work overseas.

In this first financial year, we will be launching five new GOF programmes. These reflect the FCO's Public Service Agreements for 2003–06 as well as the emerging conclusions of the FCO's longer-term strategic review. The new programmes are:

Governance in EU accession and candidate countries and near neighbours
Counter-terrorism
Engagement with the Islamic world
Climate change and energy
Strengthening our relations with emerging markets

The Fund will bring together the resources of the Human Rights Project Fund, the Environment Fund, the Counter-Terrorism Assistance Fund and the Westminster Foundation for Democracy to ensure that long-term investment is better co-ordinated and focused.

Investing in positive change of this kind has never been more important. By tackling terrorism and threats to our security, promoting good governance and human rights, and addressing injustice, poverty and conflict we promote the interests of the citizens of Britain and elsewhere. In doing so, we can only contribute to a safer, fairer and more prosperous world.

Defence

Afghanistan

The commitment of the United Kingdom to helping the people of Afghanistan rebuild their country is well established. We are already extensively engaged in a range of activities from security to reconstruction to humanitarian aid. In conjunction with our international partners and the Afghan Transitional Authority (ATA), progress has already been substantial, particularly in Kabul.Looking to build upon that progress, as my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces (Mr Ingram) informed the House in answer to a Parliamentary Question on 9 April,

Official Report, column 296W, from my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock), we have been interested in leading a Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) and were conducting the necessary preparatory planning work. We have had wide-ranging discussions with the ATA, the United Nations, regional leaders and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs). As a result of these talks and planning, we have decided to participate in the coalition's deployment of PRTs. The role of these teams is to aid the extension of the ATA's capacity, the development of a stable and secure environment in the Afghan regions and to stimulate security sector reform and reconstruction. Overall, there are expected to be eight such teams. From July 2003, the United Kingdom will lead the PRT in Mazar-e Sharif and the five surrounding provinces.

The UK PRT will initially be military-led and deploy for up to two years. It will initially comprise some 50 troops who will liaise with Afghan military forces in the region and provide the Team's support and protection. The PRT will include civilian staff from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development (DFID) who will be responsible for providing political and development advice respectively. DFID will also provide funding for the PRT to support appropriate development programmes in close connection with the central and local Afghan authorities. We have invited the ATA to provide a representative to work with the PRT, which will also employ directly a small number of local staff. By encouraging and facilitating dialogue between all the political groups and militias around Mazar-e Sharif, the Team will contribute towards the Afghans themselves creating a safer and more stable environment. We therefore anticipate the structure of the PRT may change over time and we shall in any event be seeking to include personnel from other members of the coalition as soon as is practicable. In the future, we may also look to contribute British personnel to PRTs in other regions.

The PRTs are not a part of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Kabul. Our decision to lead the Mazar-e Sharif PRT is additional to our commitment to the ISAF. We shall retain our current ISAF commitment for the duration of the joint German—Dutch leadership of the Force. We expect to remain a significant troop contributor when a NATO headquarters is deployed in August 2003 as part of the Alliance's package of measures to enhance its support to the ISAF.