My Lords, I shall focus briefly on three issues that fall within the compass of the debate. Before I do, I also pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, who formerly held this brief for the Government. The inclusive manner in which she engaged all sides of the House was much appreciated and, I believe, productive. I also welcome the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, to his new post and wish him well in following the path established by his predecessor.
Referring to previous contributions, the noble Earl, Lord Howe, set out a stark but realistic scenario of our world affairs and the UK Government’s response in their efforts to protect and advance our interests. I echo the remarks of my noble friend Lord Purvis. The work of DfID and its staff in delivering international development projects around the world is universally respected. Partner agencies have told me time and again in my travels that DfID raises the bar and sets the standard that they aspire to reach and match.
The three issues I will raise are: first, the situation in Sudan and South Sudan; secondly, trade with Africa generally; and, finally, the sustainable development goals in the context of the forthcoming Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting and the London Commonwealth summit in 2018.
The noble Earl, Lord Howe, mentioned that British troops in South Sudan are providing humanitarian assistance. Reports last week over the latest developments in Sudan are deeply disturbing. For more than five years, armed conflict has continued between Sudanese government forces and armed rebels in South Kordofan and Blue Nile, despite a declared ceasefire. In the Nuba mountains, government forces and allied militias have attacked civilians in villages and through indiscriminate bombing. Human Rights Watch has reported numerous attacks resulting in the burning of crops, looting of food and displacement of people from farming areas. Civilian deaths mount, including those of children. Many are injured and civilian property has been destroyed.
Sudan’s human rights record remains abysmal. Conflict and abuse continue in Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile. Arbitrary detentions, ill-treatment and torture continue virtually unchecked. Freedoms of peaceful assembly, association and expression, which we take for granted, are severely restricted by security officials, as well as media freedoms. Sudan has also restricted religious freedoms and detained clerics.
The European Parliament has adopted an urgency resolution on Sudan calling on the EU to,
“impose targeted punitive sanctions against those responsible for continued war crimes and non-cooperation with the International Criminal Court”.
The UN Security Council renewed UNAMID’s mandate through June 2017 and extended the mandate of the UN Interim Security Force for Abyei, despite Sudanese efforts to restrict or even end those operations. The latest news is that the UN Security Council is poised to slash the presence of UNAMID in Darfur, targeting reductions in police, military, and logistical and administrative personnel. The effect of this action will be to put millions of Darfuris at greater risk, intensifying insecurity and reducing humanitarian access.
As a member of both the European Union and the United Nations, the United Kingdom is obliged to implement any sanctions that either body chooses to impose. At present, the UK implements those sanctions through the use of EU legislation, under the European Communities Act 1972. It seems highly likely that the great repeal Bill will only freeze current sanctions; it will not update, amend or even lift them. In the meantime, 3 million Darfuris remain displaced from their homes and unable to return to Darfur, living in miserable conditions. One would have thought that the violent deaths of more than half a million people might give the UN Security Council pause for thought, but that does not appear to be the case.
I understand—the Minister will correct me if I am wrong—the Government have established a change in policy that, in terms, promotes establishing trade links and dialogue with the regime in Khartoum as a more effective way of holding it to account for its humanitarian crimes than the regimes we have at the moment imposed. I would be grateful if the Minister in his reply could clarify this and, at the same time, advise us which other countries have ascribed to this policy reversal of trading with, rather than criticising, such an obnoxious regime.
On trade with Africa in general—particularly the impact of the economic partnership agreements, the EPAs, and recognising that I was able to secure a short debate on this subject during the last Session of Parliament some seven months ago—the Government believed that, where the EPAs were correctly implemented and supported, they could support sustainable growth and development. The Government also acknowledged that the jury was still out and will be for some time. As we move forward into Brexit negotiations, how will the UK’s longstanding support for the EU’s EPAs, as a development-focused trade deal, be affected? How will the loss of the UK leadership that ensured that the EU offered the world’s most generous package of market openings for developing countries affect these deals? Will this loss of UK leadership compromise duty-free access, particularly affecting the 44 countries that are involved in Africa?
The then Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Bates, paid tribute to the work that had been done in this area by me as the co-chair of the Africa All-Party Parliamentary Group and placed on the record his wish to have that dialogue continue on those issues. As we move forward, can the Minister confirm that this remains the Government’s wish, particularly now that the trade focus is switching towards Commonwealth countries?
This leads me to the final issue I wish to address: the forthcoming Commonwealth summit in London. The Commonwealth summit—formerly known as the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, CHOGM—will be held in the spring of 2018. As the president of the National Liberal Club’s Commonwealth forum and the former chair of the advisory board of the Commonwealth Policy Studies Unit, I have a particular interest in the outcomes of this summit, being as it is in London.
The summit will also provide an opportunity to link the Commonwealth agenda to the UN-led sustainable development goals programme. I understand that, in accordance with these goals, the Commonwealth Secretariat is pressing for agreement, through the Commonwealth nations, for the acceptance and implementation of universal human rights as established in the UN charter. In this regard, these same rights are set out in the Commonwealth charter, which has been adopted unanimously by Commonwealth member states. Can the Minister advise noble Lords of the action the Government are taking, and what progress has been made, towards meeting these objectives and recording these outcomes in what will become the final communiqué from the summit?
I understand the Government have been working closely with the UK branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association to take forward the aims of sustainable development goals 16 and 17 in the context of strengthening good governance, parliamentary democracy and accountability. This may be part of the summit agenda or may take place in parallel fora in the margins. Can the Minister confirm what plans the Government have for promoting both a people’s forum and a parliamentary forum in the parallel agenda to the summit, recognising the large number of Commonwealth parliamentarians expected to attend?