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Africa

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:25 pm on 30th March 2009.

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Photo of Tom Clarke Tom Clarke Labour, Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill 5:25 pm, 30th March 2009

I do indeed, and that is one of the reasons why I intervened on my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State at an early stage. I take the point made by my hon. Friend Jeremy Corbyn. I was saying that we ought to focus on the role of the UN, and I referred to a situation in which a collection of Governments were willing to contribute troops to a peacekeeping force. I repeated my strong view that the United Nations ought to be pivotal in that.

I wish to turn briefly to the issue of Sudan. I will keep my comments short, but I find recent developments too much of a worry to allow them to pass without scrutiny, and I am extremely pleased that the issue has already been raised on both sides of the Chamber. Recently, the International Criminal Court issued and stated its commitment to an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir. On hearing of the warrant, Bashir expelled 13 foreign aid organisations and three local ones, largely from Darfur. There are more than a million people in Sudan who rely on that aid. The consequences for them are absolutely dire. It is a wholly unacceptable situation, and I am glad that the House appears to be united in its approach, and in its anger.

Meanwhile, Bashir flouts the travel rule in his arrest warrant by visiting countries not covered by the ICC, such as Egypt and Libya, and does so with impunity. That is all happening while a million people go without food, and much more. We are still waiting for the full deployment of the promised UN peacekeeping force. The Under-Secretary of State for International Development, my hon. Friend Mr. Lewis, could in his winding-up speech perhaps give us an update on any proposed timetable for deployment of the full peacekeeping force. May I also ask whether any discussions have taken place within the international community about when those expelled aid organisations can get back to work? I do not wish to sideline the importance of the International Criminal Court, but surely those factors must remain our priority, arrest warrant or no arrest warrant. The international community has made a commitment to the people of Sudan not to sit idly by. It really is time to deliver on that commitment.

The Government's rising levels of aid funding, their record on rescheduling debt and their many other actions on overseas aid matters have shown that we are willing to put our money where our mouth is in terms of our responsibility to developing countries—but the truth is that without stability and lasting peace, we cannot tackle the problems with aid and trade alone, important though they are, let alone meet our commitments to the millennium development goals.

It is easy to become sentimental about Africa—about its people, its beauty, its wildlife and its natural resources—but the plain and simple fact is that a practical response is required to all the problems that we have been debating. Alan Paton's "Cry, the Beloved Country", Robert Ruark's "Something of Value" and Trevor Huddleston's "Naught for Your Comfort" still offer inspiration, but time is running short.

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