Sierra Leone

– in the House of Lords at 7:37 pm on 27 June 2005.

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Photo of Lord Freeman Lord Freeman Conservative 7:37, 27 June 2005

rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what further plans they have to support the political, social and economic development of Sierra Leone.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Royall of Blaisdon, for coming to answer the debate. In her first few weeks on the Front Bench, I am sure she has been surprised to have to answer so many questions and debates. She is most welcome and I thank her. I also thank other noble Lords for participating in this debate.

According to the Prime Minister, and I am sure he is right, 2005 is the year of Africa. It is the year in which we consider how we are to assist the development of sub-Saharan Africa in particular. Your Lordships' House has debated many times the general principles that should apply to aid and economic development for Africa. We wish the G8 all success in driving forward positive support for some of the poorest countries in the world.

The purpose of this evening's debate is to look at one of the poorest countries in the world—Sierra Leone. According to the United Nations, it has the lowest GDP per head, based upon global statistics. So it is important to look not at the general principles but at practical reality—how we are helping this country regain the prosperity which it once, in relative terms, had.

The United Kingdom has a unique and special responsibility to help and encourage Sierra Leone because of former historical connections with it. Your Lordships' House has consistently shown an interest in this country and others in sub-Saharan Africa in the past 200 years.

Sierra Leone has made great progress since the end of a very bitter civil war in 2002. The United Nations has had a substantial force located in the country and the final remnants of that force will shortly leave. We should all pay tribute to the success of that initiative and I hope that the British Army's training mission in Sierra Leone will remain. It has done vital work training security forces and plans to stay almost indefinitely. I hope that resources will be available to ensure that.

I wish to touch fairly briefly on three challenges facing the country: first, the elimination of corruption and the establishment of the rule of law; secondly, the correct use of aid, not just United Kingdom aid but that coming from the United Nations and many other donors; and finally, to applaud the steps taken so far to attract UK economic investment but raise some issues concerning that.

On corruption, it is a necessary precondition for foreign direct investment in a country that the Government should be seen to be taking all possible steps to end corruption—not only among local officials and policemen but throughout government. I pay tribute to what has already been achieved under the leadership of President Kabbah and Vice-President Berewa. There is no doubt in my mind, having spoken to Ministers and visited the country—and I intend to keep on visiting the country—the Government are behind the removal of corruption. The Anti-Corruption Commission set up at the initiative of the President and the Government, recruiting special judges—some coming from the Commonwealth—has demonstrated that the Government mean business. That should continue.

I am pleased that the special court is still in session to prosecute those who are alleged to have been involved in the civil war. Now that we have started proceedings at the special court, I hope that it can be funded to a successful conclusion, perhaps a year or 18 months hence. I am also pleased that, at long last, the Government are coming to grips with the diamond trade and legitimising it, increasing revenues and attracting the economic and political interest of the world in what must be one of the greatest economic prizes and resources of the country.

My second point concerns the corrupt use of aid. DfID, both in London and in Sierra Leone, has achieved a great deal and I pay tribute to all the civil servants involved in establishing the 10-year programme with significant resources and those involved directly in trying to assist the Government. That is a tremendous credit to DfID.

I hope that the Minister will be able to offer some words of encouragement about debt relief. Sierra Leone is on the second tier or list for debt relief. There are nine countries that will not benefit from immediate debt relief but may benefit in 12 months' time when all the necessary conditions are seen to have been fulfilled. Sierra Leone has debt of more than $1 billion. If the British Government are able to persuade other colleagues and nations to advance that relief, that would provide early and specific benefit.

I make one plea about aid. Taking a leaf out of the book of European development over the past two or three centuries, we should look at direct assistance in transportation in addition to health and education, which are extremely important. The better construction of a road system or even a railway system, to return to what was in place 100 years ago, will help the economic development of the country, to which I turn as a final point.

I declare an interest as the co-chairman of the UK-Sierra Leone Business Forum together with the Sierra Leone High Commissioner, Tejan-Jalloh, and pay tribute to him for the work that he has done in trying to attract interest from business and industry in the United Kingdom. Economic growth will alleviate poverty directly and quickly in the country. I am greatly concerned by the fact that there are apparently 2 million unemployed young people, many of whom were involved in the war and were injured. Apparently,

"three quarters of 18–35 year-olds are unemployed".

That could be a recipe for disaster unless economic growth provides early and rapid employment.

The Minister for Trade and Industry, Mrs Sesay, has vigorously introduced the Investment Programme Act, which provides investment incentives for companies coming into the country. Also, under her leadership, there has been a study by the World Bank and DfID to look at how commercial law, protection of IP rights and competition law can be reviewed to encourage investment. Under her leadership I hope that before too long we will see real benefits. The privatisation commission—early candidates being the banks, forestry and ports—has in its grasp the unique ability to draw in not only foreign operators for some of these great previously state assets, but cash. There are other obvious areas for investment—minerals, oil and gas, agribusiness and tourism.

Finally, let us not forget the diaspora of Sierra Leoneans who live in this country are increasingly looking not only to increase remittances back to the country but to go back and work there. The Commonwealth Business Council has begun to take the initiative by arranging a conference in Freetown in March next year to encourage the diaspora and foreign businesses to invest in the country.

If Japan, China and South Africa now feel that it is sensible and wise to invest in Sierra Leone, for heaven's sake, the United Kingdom, with its great and historical obligations to the country, should follow. My message to UK business and industry is to wake up. We are respected as businessmen. We are needed and wanted in Sierra Leone, so let us go to it. To quote the sentence used by the President and Vice-President:

"Sierra Leone is back in business".

Photo of Lord Lea of Crondall Lord Lea of Crondall Labour 7:47, 27 June 2005

My Lords, I very much welcome the initiative of the noble Lord, Lord Freeman, with his very close interest and knowledge of Sierra Leone, in putting down this dinner-break debate. Africa is a key priority of the presidency, which starts next week and leads to what is described by the Council of Ministers in a document adopted only a couple of weeks ago as a comprehensive strategy for Africa to be adopted by the Council in December 2005.

As a case study, we could do worse than to see how one or two elements could fit Sierra Leone and how, for example, some of the problems and opportunities in Sierra Leone could inform this grand strategy.

I do not go along with those people who say that there is no such place as Africa: it is too abstract. Clearly, one has to have policies for the whole of Africa. Equally, they must be tested against the realities of the specific.

I have no current interest in Sierra Leone, but I worked briefly in Sierra Leone in 1961, which is some time ago. This was before Siaka Stevens became President for all those years. He had been a railway trade union leader and got a TUC scholarship to Ruskin College, Oxford. When I worked there, it was a different era, one year after independence.

We have to cite one or two of the realities about corruption in informing what we do about it. Quite an interesting quote comes from an organisation called the Sierra Leone National Accountability Group—I do not know what that is—which suggested something along the lines of, "If you are in a government office and you don't steal, your whole family gets angry with you". Interestingly enough, in his autobiography, written in 1984, Siaka Stevens makes a similar point. He says that people in most African countries are in a different position, because—in a nutshell—the political classes have no different living standards from other people. He says that,

"the African tradition being what it is, men from villages who have achieved prominence in the capital thanks to the support of their fellow villagers, would be expected to reciprocate the help received from their local constituents"— in the rural areas—

"at least by feeding them and looking after them when they arrive in the big city. Frequently, they would also be expected to help them financially, support their applications for jobs or favours and provide some presents for their families.

"Thus, when one of these men is elected to political office, he does not merely change his job, but also his lifestyle . . . But"— and this is the key point—

"the process is hardly reversible. Human nature being what it is, it would be unrealistic to expect a man who has spent some years as an adopted member of the modern, affluent society to return suddenly to a rural African environment which may have remained unchanged since medieval times. Can one tell such a man: 'Your time is up; forget all about your government-leased five-room house, your bathroom, your car, your refrigerator, your electronic gadgets; remove your children from the private school and your shoes from your socked feet; tell your wife to forget about the supermarket and go back to the village'."

I quote that because I believe that it is extraordinarily difficult to grasp—and frankly a reflection of world income inequalities—that expatriates have a living standard at least 1,000 times that of the average African village. Therefore, side by side with this emphasis on transparency, which is vital, we have to be seen to be partners in ensuring that that kind of disparity cannot continue.

This raises the question of interference in the internal affairs of member states. Interestingly enough, I may quote Stevens in that regard, as he was to my knowledge, in August 1972, the first African leader to write a letter to Idi Amin, in which he said:

"I realise that one of the fundamental tenets is that no nation should interfere in the internal affairs of other nations".

Now the African Union has changed from the doctrine of non-interference to one of non-indifference. One can see Siaka Stevens warts and all, and I do not know too much about his reputation now, but I was interested to see from his autobiography that he wrote that critical letter to Idi Amin in August 1972.

We can avoid being accused of neo-colonialism if we do more things through the African Union. Our committee is looking at relations between the European Union and the African Union to try to get behind some of the benchmarks. It is an excellent agenda, and I hope that Sierra Leone can be a case study in how to reconcile some of the problems that we have mentioned.

Photo of Lord St John of Bletso Lord St John of Bletso Crossbench 7:54, 27 June 2005

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Freeman, is right in saying that 2005 is the year of Africa. I join in thanking him for having given us the chance to debate the current opportunities and the challenges facing Sierra Leone.

There are common themes between today's debate and our debate last week on the Africa Commission report. Her Majesty's Government have played a pivotally important role in helping to end the conflict and re-establishing peace and stability in Sierra Leone. That has been reinforced by the 10-year agreement signed in November 2002, which seeks to promote and reinforce security sector reform, governance reform, decentralisation, public financial management, diamond sector reform, anti-corruption measures, private sector development and budgetary support. Over the past three years, DfID has committed £120 million to that agreement.

The raw statistics relating to poverty and unemployment; the country's infrastructure, which was destroyed during the conflict; life expectancy, which is under the age of 40; and the political upheavals make depressing reading. David White said, in his lead article for the Financial Times report on Sierra Leone earlier this year:

"Sierra Leone is gradually getting back on its feet after 11 years of havoc. Roads, schools and clinics have been rebuilt. Sierra Leone has become a test case for the rehabilitation of failed states. Sierra Leone's backers can not afford for it to go wrong".

There is no denying that a huge amount has been achieved in the past three years in re-establishing political and social security, but the biggest challenge is economic development. There cannot be sustainable political stability without economic stability and growth. The country can not survive on aid alone; there has to be aid with trade.

Sierra Leone's tradition of high education standards has been eroded in the past two decades, and it is a chilling fact that almost two-thirds of the population are now illiterate. Clearly, one of the biggest challenges for Sierra Leone will be the creation of employment opportunities for the youth and the women of that country.

The large reduction in the United Nations peace-keeping presence and the departure of many emergency relief NGOs has had a knock-on effect on the job and leisure market. Jobs in the service sector that once catered for the huge number of foreign UN and aid workers are being lost daily—in the hotel industry, in restaurants, for drivers, and so on. The problem is that very few jobs are being created by the private sector to replace these lost jobs. That is, to a large measure, the result of the absence of a formal small and medium-sized enterprise sector in Sierra Leone, and it is on the SME sector that I shall focus my few remaining remarks today.

There are thousands of informal sector traders on the streets of Freetown, Bo, Koidu and Makeni, hawking cheap imported goods, mostly from China, but they do not generate wealth, pay taxes or create jobs. The absence of SMEs is the result, to a large degree, of a totally inadequate local banking system in Sierra Leone. To my knowledge, there is no way in which businesses with proper business plans can secure any reasonable or timely bank financing.

I heard recently of an expatriate who was looking to establish a quarry business for dimension stone needing about $2 million to get under way. It would have employed approximately 50 people and supported extended families of up to five to 10 times that number. He was unable to get the banking finance. The nearest World Bank office is located in Abidjan, in Ivory Coast, and does not cater for Sierra Leone, its focus being on French as opposed to English Africa. Can the Minister give any indication of what measures, if any, Her Majesty's Government are taking to promote private sector Development and, more specifically, the growth of SMEs in Sierra Leone? There is also no equity venture capital available to fund start-up businesses. Therefore, SMEs, considered by the West as the engines of job creation, are non-existent in Sierra Leone, and there appears to be no effective plan to cultivate them.

A second employer could be the massive infrastructure programmes under way in the country, in particular road building. One of the biggest contractors in the field is a Senegalese firm. I understand that it is in fact constructing poor quality roads, with poor road beds and very thin layers of asphalt. It employs few locals. Why not hire Sierra Leonean youth en masse to prepare road beds instead of using entirely mechanized means? That would create large-scale employment and a sense of self-worth and accomplishment in the youth, freeing them from the begging bowl.

I am delighted that His Excellency the Vice-President of Sierra Leone and the Minister of Trade and Industry have been able to attend this time-limited debate and that they will both address the seminar at Chatham House this Thursday. I believe that there is an ever-increasing inward investment interest in Sierra Leone, in a country that is certainly one of the jewels of Africa.

Photo of Baroness Whitaker Baroness Whitaker Labour 8:00, 27 June 2005

My Lords, Sierra Leone had rather dropped out of the headlines since the remarkably successful armed intervention put an end to the war, so we should be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Freeman, for calling attention to this interesting and, many think, hopeful country in spite of its traumatic recent history.

I say "many think" because I should perhaps declare a small interest in that my daughter worked for a time at the special court trying the war criminals. She spoke to me of the commitment of local people and of the much richer diaspora to rebuild, as the noble Lord, Lord Freeman, pointed out. I do not intend to focus on the special court, but I would like to say something about the domestic justice system as a key part of civil society.

A war-torn country needs, as the noble Lord said, investment in its infrastructure, its underfunded schools and clinics and its enterprise. But to give it the confidence to grow, it also needs to rebuild a sense of wholesomeness—a sense of normal security and fair operation of services. For those, the justice system has to work.

There was evidence that women, children and poor people suffered disproportionately from crime and that many had no affordable or accessible way to get grievances against those in authority dealt with. There is a customary law system, but that does not always meet the needs of women and young people. The Sierra Leone Government are committed to restoring the rule of law and to providing safety and security for their citizens, and they should be congratulated on making the reform of justice a priority. They asked DfID to support an ambitious justice sector development programme, based on human rights, ranging from training the police and judges to reforming the law itself, with extra staff for the anti-corruption commission. I am proud that we have responded to that sensible call and have committed large funds to it.

Sierra Leone has special advantages on which to build the programme now. It is the right time for investment in justice. There are expert, legally qualified people from many countries there because of the special court who want to help and who are willing to give their time. It has a good professional cadre of lawyers and a distinguished university—Fourah Bay, the first in Africa—all desperately short of salaries, equipment and books, but with the intellectual capacity and motivation that can profit from support. The highly skilled Sierra Leone diaspora is beginning to return, but, for instance, there are no published law reports. I hope that some of our £25 million might go on that small prerequisite for judicial precedent, on which all common law justice is based.

A justice system is in a way the backbone of civil society, without which voluntary efforts and individual initiatives fail to contribute permanently to the shape of a culture. When there is a justice system, voluntary effort and individual initiatives are what make it all come alive. Here, Sierra Leone also has its own advantages and matching links with the United Kingdom. The advantages are the people—ready for change, open to initiative and positive, even those who suffered the psychological damage of being child soldiers.

Sierra Leone's close western friend, Britain, happens to have one of the largest voluntary sectors in the world. It is no surprise that some are engaged in working with young Sierra Leoneans. My honourable friend Michael Foster MP has one such in his constituency of Hastings, linked with Hastings in Sierra Leone, which has worked with local people, sending out an engineer to help plan a community centre and rebuild the town's bridges.

I will also mention a large organisation of which I have just become the patron—Students Partnership Worldwide—which has been invited by the Ministry of Youth and Sport to run a national programme to train young adults as volunteer peer educators and advocates for about 50,000 of their fellows—following the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Freeman—to draw them out of their violent past into becoming active citizens, improving services, making informed choices about livelihoods and understanding how to avoid HIV/AIDS. Students Partnership Worldwide does that with a handful of staff, mainly Sierra Leonean, and a large number of Sierra Leonean volunteers.

The Government are not often praised for being sensitive, but I think that DfID is sensitive in funding that work, making space for the young people of Sierra Leone to grow in civic engagement, with help from the energy and experience of our own voluntary sector. The work at the intersection of international aid, national government and civil society—our own as well as Sierra Leone's—is path-breaking, and I hope that its lessons will be communicated.

Photo of Lord McColl of Dulwich Lord McColl of Dulwich Spokespersons In the Lords, Health 8:08, 27 June 2005

My Lords, like other noble Lords I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Freeman for introducing the debate, especially as I had the privilege of accompanying him to Sierra Leone on a CPA delegation and also because I have worked in Sierra Leone as a surgeon on Mercy Ships on many occasions in the past few years.

It has been mentioned several times before but bears repetition that 2,000 British troops and a Royal Navy warship came to Sierra Leone at the height of the troubles and not only restored and maintained peace but did so much more besides in helping the people of Sierra Leone rebuild their lives and infrastructure. They helped to restore homes, schools and clinics and were much admired at that time. The only sad thing about all that is that it did not seem to feature much in the British media. There seems to be a great reluctance to broadcast good news.

We ought to bear it in mind that the gradual withdrawal of most of the United Nations peacekeepers in 2004 and early this year, the deteriorating political and economic conditions in Guinea and the tenuous security situation in Liberia, where I have been recently, may present challenges to Sierra Leone's stability. Therefore, continued support is absolutely vital.

One of the problems that has been highlighted on many occasions is how to find suitable people and organisations to whom to give the aid to distribute to people who really need it. Ann Gloag of Stagecoach experienced that difficulty in several other countries in Africa and worked out the best theoretical way of delivering her financial help to the poorest in Africa. She decided to have her own hospital ship and her own staff and to visit ports around the African continent. That was feasible because, as your Lordships know, two-thirds of the world's population live within 100 miles of a port city.

Having settled the problem theoretically, she was introduced to the charity, Mercy Ships, which has three hospital ships visiting the poorest countries in the world, staying in port for anything up to seven months and doing the kind of operations not readily available to those we serve. Thanks to Ann's generous donation, a hospital ship was bought and is now in Newcastle being equipped. It should be ready to sail by the end of the year.

Many of the situations that we meet in west Africa are remarkable indeed. For instance, I was there a few weeks ago when twin boys aged two came on board the ship. They had been blind since birth due to cataracts and had never walked. The operation was successful and, when the bandages were removed the following day, they were able to see for the first time. The amazed expression on their faces was really wonderful. As a result of the operation, the brothers were able to walk almost immediately. The end of the story is that by the next day the most normal of two year-old boy behaviour was resumed and they began to fight each other.

One of the three ships, "MV Anastasis", has visited Sierra Leone on four occasions in the past nine years, amounting to more than two years of free healthcare. The most recent visit was for seven months, with the ship carrying out thousands of operations. Not only are the operations free but the 400 volunteers on board actually pay for their food and keep—that includes the captain.

Of course, it is not enough to go to the countries in Africa and supply the sort of treatment that we do; it is essential also to train the local doctors and nurses in techniques with which they are unfamiliar. By the same token, nurses and healthcare workers go out into the villages, teaching preventive medicine and dentistry and teach the local people to do the teaching. Local people will listen to local teachers, whereas sometimes they are not so keen to listen to those from abroad. My experience of local teachers is that they have tremendous talent and really keep the attention of those they are teaching.

The engineers help the local people reopen old wells and dig new ones and help them construct buildings such as clinics, a rehabilitation centre in Freetown and a mothers and babies unit. Also, a small hospital was donated by an oil company to enable doctors to operate on some of the 3 million ladies in Africa who have been rendered incontinent as a result of unsupervised labour.

It is, of course, vital to do the work with local people and not just for them, so that they have ownership. Reliable United Nations research has proved that capacity building will have a lasting benefit only if the local people actually want it. It is no good going into a country and telling people what they need and supplying it if they really do not want it. It is vital that they want it and have ownership of it, and I am sure that Her Majesty's Government keep that in mind when supporting similar projects in Sierra Leone.

Such examples of the sterling work conducted by our British troops are an important illustration of the efforts made each day to stabilise Sierra Leone as quickly as possible. The medical work and micro-finance projects being conducted highlight how great the need for continued help and support from Her Majesty's Government really is. The fate of Sierra Leone's economy depends on the maintenance of domestic peace and the continued receipt of substantial aid from abroad, which is essential to offset the severe trade imbalance and to supplement government revenues. One looks forward to hearing about the work that Her Majesty's Government have planned to conduct in that area.

Photo of Lord Avebury Lord Avebury Spokesperson in the Lords (With Special Responsibility for Africa), Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs, Spokesperson in the Lords (Civil Liberties), Home Affairs 8:14, 27 June 2005

My Lords, we are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Freeman, for providing the first opportunity since the election to debate the help that Britain is giving to Sierra Leone. I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord McColl, on the wonderful work that Mercy Ships are doing. Not only he but all his hundreds of colleagues give their voluntary labour, which is absolutely fantastic.

The jury is still out on Sierra Leone, as Chris Mullin said in March. We have made a major investment in rebuilding the country, but it remains in a very fragile state. The Secretary-General's latest report to the Security Council showed how much remains to be done before the Sierra Leone armed forces are fully capable of discharging their responsibilities. It will be 2007 before the troop strength is reduced to the planned level of 10,500; and 2010 before they have barracks in which to house them. There are shortages of transport and communications equipment despite some generous donations by a number of countries, including the UK. The army's existing transport fleet is largely inoperable. Does the training that we are helping to provide include the repair and maintenance of mechanical, electrical and electronic equipment?

The build-up of the police is also delayed by the shortage of resources. The target of 9,500 trained police officers by the end of 2005 is not going to be achieved, and it would be useful to know what the plans are now. Accommodation for police in the provinces is a problem, but not the only one. In Makeni and Magburaka there are police barracks, yet when Charles Margai, aspirant for the presidency of the ruling SLPP, went there last week he was mobbed and intimidated by bikers who were said to have been paid by the Resident Minister to prevent him holding meetings. Makeni is APC territory—unimportant in the SLPP leadership contest—so the inability of the police to ensure freedom of assembly there does not augur well for the 2007 elections.

I welcome the appointment of Christiana Thorpe to head the National Electoral Commission and her restructuring programme to withdraw government employees from the commission. Are we helping to ensure that, unlike in 2002, the registration centres are evenly deployed throughout the country? The Commonwealth Secretariat, and in the US the National Democratic Institute, put a lot of effort into the National Election Watch coalition, which last time had 2,000 observers at both presidential and parliamentary elections. The creation of indigenous non-governmental mechanisms for oversight of the whole electoral process is the best hope for a culture of democracy to flourish in Sierra Leone. Will the UK encourage that process in the run-up to 2007?

I have two more points. First, the noble Lord, Lord St. John, mentioned investment. The World Bank recently approved a $30 million economic rehabilitation and recovery credit to Sierra Leone, and the country director, while praising the "remarkable resurrection of agriculture", mentioned land tenure as one of the issues still needing attention. It is a political hot potato that the government have so far failed to grasp since the interim PSRP promised "a fundamental review" in June 2001. A uniform national system of land tenure is urgently needed to replace the ramshackle and overlapping legal regimes that deter major investment in agriculture. Is there any UK involvement in that process? Will part of the money being provided by the World Bank be used for that purpose?

Secondly, there is the widely ignored evil of female genital mutilation, which has not yet been mentioned. The UN Rapporteur on Violence against Women reported in 2002 that 89 per cent of women and girls had undergone the procedure as part of a ritual initiation into women's secret societies. It is a painful operation, performed without anaesthetic, and it may cause lifelong health problems. Sierra Leone is a party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and has reported once, in 1996, without mentioning FGM. It also ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women in 1988, but like many other African countries it has yet to report.

The problem is that, bizarre as it may seem, FGM is popular in Sierra Leone. The president's late wife Patricia sponsored 1,500 young girls for circumcision during the presidential campaign of 2002, and the Minister for Social Welfare, Gender and Child Protection has threatened to "sew up the mouths" of people who speak against FGM. Are we supporting the brave NGOs such as the Katanya Women's Development Association and the Centre for Safe Motherhood which are nevertheless campaigning to stop that loathsome practice? Will the Government lobby others to do the same?

Sierra Leone musicians are performing at a Freetown concert on Friday to demand that Sierra Leone's remaining $1.7 billion debt should be written off. Their leader, Daddy Saj, the foremost rap artist in Sierra Leone, says that they will be paying off the enormous debt for ever if they do not get further relief. As the Make Poverty History campaign points out, creditors said seven years ago that they would cancel unpayable poor country debts. It would be a tremendous boost to the morale of Sierra Leone, still one of the poorest countries in the world, as has been said, if the people attending the concert were to receive a message of hope and encouragement from our Prime Minister. He may not have the power to wipe out the debt but, with the presidency of the G8 and the EU, he could pledge that he would go into bat for them at Gleneagles and in Brussels.

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Spokespersons In the Lords, Foreign Affairs, Deputy Leader, House of Lords, Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Lords 8:20, 27 June 2005

My Lords, like others, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Freeman for promoting the debate. For once, we have the beginnings of a good story coming out of Africa, because a genuine degree of stability has been achieved under the guidance of President Kabbah and his Ministers in what was a war-torn country. We should be thankful for that.

In the language of the Government themselves, a significant degree of progress has been achieved. I think that that means that the poverty reduction programme is on track and that DfID continues to focus support extremely effectively. One looks with pride on what has been achieved by this country in helping Sierra Leone back to recovery. That has been backed up by training programmes for the police and military, staffed predominantly by British officers. Again, that makes one proud. I pay tribute, as others have done, to those who have participated in the now withdrawing UN forces, and to those of our troops and Navy who did so well in the original involvement. As my noble friend Lord McColl reminds us, they did far more than restore security, providing the foundations for recovery.

All that is heartening and brings home, to me at any rate, the point that the focus should be on individual countries and specific needs of particular areas and regions. I am sorry if I do not carry the noble Lord, Lord Lea, with me, but it also brings home the danger of talking about Africa in too-general terms. I cannot emphasise too strongly that high-flown demands for still more aid are not the answer; they may even be part of the problem. The answers lie in: the direction of focus, as we have focused ourselves in Sierra Leone; open trade; good governance; of course, the end of corruption; the rule of law; and the promotion of enterprise, innovation and small business, as the noble Lord, Lord St John of Bletso, rightly said.

Sir Bob Geldof and his celebrities, with their views and enthusiasm, can be forgiven for not understanding the finer points. However, our policy experts, officials and Ministers should guide their policy by the kind of lessons that we are learning in Sierra Leone, not by generalities.

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Spokespersons In the Lords, Foreign Affairs, Deputy Leader, House of Lords, Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, I simply do not have the time. I shall have a drink with the noble Lord afterwards; that is the best thing.

In my few minutes, I would like to ask more about the Chinese involvement. China seems to be moving into Africa in a colonising way everywhere, partly in a search for oil and commodities, without being much noticed by the West. The penetration is enormous in many countries, and Sierra Leone is one. I would like to know more about how the special court and the truth and reconciliation commission are getting on, and the chances of getting Messrs Taylor and Koroma before the commission. Obviously, we would like to know how progress is being made in tying up the diamond marketing—getting away from the conflict diamonds, and getting rid of the illegitimate forces influencing the control of diamond areas.

I would like to add a string of questions, and I shall try to allow the Minister time to answer them. Are we still supporting the African agricultural technology project, and how is that going? What are we doing about employment projects for ex-combatants? There are a lot of problems in re-employing those people. How is the land development project going, given that agriculture was so badly damaged and reduced during the horrific war, although it is now recovering?

The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, rightly mentioned the position of women, who seem to be the victims of terror, insecurity and war around the whole world, particularly in parts of Africa and in Sierra Leone. That really is the key to a more peaceful and sensibly managed future for Sierra Leone and many other countries. I would like to hear from the Minister about that.

The machinery of government is also in some difficulties. I am told that President Kabbah and his Ministers are vastly overworked and overloaded with inadequate staffing procedures and support. I understand that British officials have been supplying useful support for that. I should like to hear a little more.

I have moved so quickly that I have a minute and a half left and I shall allow the noble Lord, Lord Lea of Crondall, to intervene, after all. Does he wish to do so?

Photo of Lord Lea of Crondall Lord Lea of Crondall Labour

My Lords, I am most grateful. I think that we are on the same side. I was saying that grand strategies must be tested against specific examples. Could not Sierra Leone be a good case study to ensure that the European Union, in drawing up its programme for the end of the year, gets to see how the matter relates to specifics? That was my point.

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Spokespersons In the Lords, Foreign Affairs, Deputy Leader, House of Lords, Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, that point was perfectly fair, to which my answer is, maddeningly, yes and no. Sierra Leone faced unique problems that required unique solutions of the type that we have heard this evening. Some broader lessons are to be learnt, but I cannot emphasise too strongly that Africa constitutes a variety of political, social, economic problems and needs to be treated with the sensitivity and precision of the surgeon, rather than the blunderbuss.

This has been an excellent little debate. For me, Sierra Leone was, until recently, a tragedy and now we hope that out of tragedy a bright new star will appear. There is a real chance that it could.

Photo of Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Government Whip 8:26, 27 June 2005

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Freeman, for this opportunity to discuss our support for Sierra Leone and to other noble Lords for their contributions. This debate has, indeed, shown the extent of informed interest in and commitment to Sierra Leone's interests in this House. I would like to commend, particularly, the support that the noble Lord, Lord Freeman, has given to the country as a member of the all-party group and through his personal interventions. He has facilitated presentations by the government of Sierra Leone in Britain on investment opportunities and has worked directly with the Department for International Development in supporting the National Commission on Privatisation. I am also grateful for his kind comments about DfID. I thank him for his wake-up call to British industry.

I am also honoured by the presence of the vice-president and the Minister at this debate and I understand that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for International Development will meet them tomorrow. I shall reply in writing to any questions to which I do not respond this evening. I wholeheartedly agree with the view expressed by the noble Lord, Lord McColl of Dulwich, regarding the media's reluctance to cover "good news" especially the good news that he brought us about the excellent work of Mercy Ships and the talents of local teachers. Yes, of course, local people must take ownership of what they are doing and DfID's intention all the time is to work with local people.

The noble Lord, Lord Freeman, asked about aid. Sierra Leone will be eligible to benefit from the G8 finance Ministers' agreement, once it reaches completion. That is normally one year after a poverty reduction strategy is agreed.

The first and over-riding requirement since 2002 has been security. As the report of the Commission for Africa points out, without it, there can be no development. We have committed a large part of our programme to security sector reform. The International Military Advisory and Training Team (IMATT) is helping to train the armed forces, as many noble Lords have said. We have made a major investment in reforming and equipping the police and we are helping to strengthen a politically impartial intelligence system. Much has been achieved and the UK has agreed a strategy for the period up to 2010 with IMATT. A critical period is ahead, because all UNAMSIL peacekeeping troops will leave at the end of the year.

I fully endorse the view of my noble friend Lady Whitaker that justice is a key part of a healthy civil society, because, of course, security and justice are inextricably linked. I also agree that the publication of law reports is desirable and I understand that the justice sector development programme will examine that.

The UK is far and away the biggest bilateral donor. We have emphasised the commitment of Britain to Sierra Leone through the 10-year memorandum of understanding that we signed at the end of 2002. It commits DfID to providing £120 million in bilateral aid over the first three years. This figure does not include the substantial cost of IMATT, which is British-led and mostly British staffed, nor does it include our share of UNAMSIL.

The noble Lord, Lord Freeman, asked about three areas of development. Let me first turn to the crucial issue of economic development, which was also mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord St John of Bletso. At present, half the government budget in Sierra Leone is provided by donors. It is essential that the economy grows and that it provides jobs for the growing number of unemployed and, in some cases, disaffected youths, who were mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Freeman. Labour demonstrations and student unrest at the beginning of this year were warning signs. As the noble Lord, Lord St John, also mentioned, women need jobs.

We have joined forces with the World Bank Group's Foreign Investment Advisory Service to address barriers to private sector development and to provide support to the Ministry of Trade and the National Commission on Privatisation. This is an essential plank of support to SMEs. We are also supporting SME training through conciliation resources focused on young people and we have helped to provide micro-credit through the campaign for good governance. We are planning support for a national private sector development policy and for reform of business law, and we have made encouraging contacts with the diaspora in this country. This is a critical area of activity, as the noble Lord, Lord Freeman, mentioned. Diamonds have been mentioned several times. I am delighted to say that income tax on diamond exports has increased from $3 million in 2000 to $126 million in 2004. This has been a vital boost to the economy.

As the noble Lord, Lord Freeman, informed us, Sierra Leone occupies bottom place in the UN Human Development Index. Child and maternal mortality rates are amongst the highest in the world and government services are greatly under-funded. However, a major development has been the completion of a poverty reduction strategy. It sets out the Government's plans for the allocation of domestic and external resources to areas directly related to poverty reduction, including health and education. The strategy is supported by the donor community, including the World Bank and IMF. It will be discussed with donors at a consultative group meeting later this year and will be the foundation not only of Government policy, but also of donor support. We are reviewing our own programmes in the light of the strategy.

The noble Lord, Lord Howell, mentioned the case of Charles Taylor. We continue to believe that Charles Taylor should face justice in the special court. His surrender would be in the long-term interest of regional stability and would be an important step towards ending the culture of impunity. We would prefer it if President Obasanjo gave Taylor up to the court voluntarily and we continue to raise the issue with the Nigerian Government.

The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, mentioned the important question of female genital mutilation. We are supporting an Oxfam women in leadership programme. It does not direct address FGM, but it is empowering women and addressing a range of women's issues.

The noble Lords, Lord Avebury and Lord Howell, also mentioned land tenure and national elections. I am happy to confirm that we are assisting the commission to restructure, and we are committed to supporting the 2007 elections. On land tenure, I understand that the Government of Sierra Leone have carried out a study on this important issue through the law reform commission. It is a key issue, especially in private sector development.

The restoration of democratic government has been a key achievement of the current administration. For our part, we have been the principal funders of the 2002 presidential and national elections and of last year's local elections, which were the first for 32 years. We are also developing a programme of support to strengthen parliamentary committees to provide oversight of the Executive. But, of course, political development is very much in the hands of the Sierra Leone authorities. The overwhelmingly important issue, which was raised by many noble Lords, is corruption. Surveys have shown that people believe that corruption continues unchecked and that, ominously, they consider it to be the biggest threat to the country's security.

We are the main supporter of Sierra Leone's public commitment to the fight against corruption. We have given extensive support to the Anti-Corruption Commission. With the Commonwealth secretariat, we have helped to provide expatriate judges to clear the backlog of corruption cases in the justice system and two special prosecutors for corruption cases.

However, the key to all this is political will. Unless there is a complete change of heart among those with influence in society, and a turning away from habitual patterns of corrupt behaviour, there is, indeed, a serious threat to the security of the country.

The people of Sierra Leone expect a real change of attitude at the top of their society. They clearly do not think that it has occurred. The consequences of that are potentially disastrous.

We are Sierra Leone's closest friends. Our commitment is manifestly strong and for the long term. But the biggest threat to the achievements of the administration, and our investment in the restoration of development programmes, is the pervasive and corrosive issue of corruption. The great achievement of the past five years has been the restoration of security.

The next big step from that should be towards the millennium development goals. The obstacle, not only in our view but also that of the people of Sierra Leone, is pervasive corruption. That is the biggest current and future issue. It is one in which political will is more important than the entire combined efforts of donors.

I make no secret of the fact that there have been difficult exchanges with the Sierra Leone government on this issue. If the Government take the steps needed, they will have the full support of the United Kingdom.

In answer to my noble friend Lord Lea of Crondall, the Government fully agree that we in the EU should work much more closely with the African Union on this and other issues.

In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Howell, about aid, of course aid is part of a package. It must go hand in hand with trade and debt relief. Those three things form the basis of the view of the Commission for Africa. We believe the way forward is to work with these three key objectives.

Sierra Leone has the opportunity to become a symbol of recovery from the worst kind of conflict. But there must be a complete rejection of the culture of corruption. We must not let Sierra Leone's recent history be repeated because of lack of attention to the social injustices that allowed so many people to be exploited. Its people deserve better.