Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

[Mr. Eric Martlew in the Chair] — Darfur

– in Westminster Hall at 12:00 am on 1st April 2008.

Alert me about debates like this

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—[Mr. Roy.]

Photo of James Duddridge James Duddridge Opposition Whip (Commons) 9:30 am, 1st April 2008

Despite having worked in Africa for a number of years before entering Parliament and serving as vice-chairman of the parliamentary all-party group on Africa, I have not, to my embarrassment, done more on Sudan, and on Darfur specifically. Indeed, I only engaged in that country's affairs and those of the region two years ago.

On Holocaust memorial day, I went to sign the book of remembrance—or condolence; I am unsure exactly how to refer to it—and was surprised that I was expected to make a comment as well as signing my name. I wrote, "We must remember, lest we make the same mistakes again." I said "we" because all members of the human race are culpable in the problems around the world. When I returned to my office, my research assistant, Philippa Buckley, whom I respect very much, asked me what I had written. I told her, and she laughed in my face—not because it was funny, but because my comments were somewhat facile and simplistic. We face such problems around the world, and Darfur is just one of the places where they are happening. Never before in my three years as a Member of Parliament, and never since, have I felt so weak and so unable to make an impact on a situation that needs the world's attention.

The Aegis Trust recommended to MPs that now was a good time to build on the Westminster Hall debates secured by Mr. Drew and Mr. Clarke, particularly as we have just passed the five-year anniversary of what most people regard as the beginning of the conflict. We are also coming up to 13 April—the day for Darfur—so today is a good time to review the situation in Sudan.

Photo of Bob Spink Bob Spink Independent Conservative, Castle Point

Before my hon. Friend moves too far from his point about facile comments, does he, like me, find it a little bit rich that President Sarkozy and other EU leaders talk about redoubling their efforts when they have failed to meet their promises to provide peacekeepers in Darfur? Perhaps they ought to address their protectionist EU trade policies, which add to instability in that region of Africa.

Photo of James Duddridge James Duddridge Opposition Whip (Commons)

I certainly agree that talk has been easy, and that there has been little delivery. I am critical not only of Sarkozy but of the Government, although not in a party political way. Given the mechanisms of British politics, it is the Government and the Minister of the day who are responsible, not Parliament as a whole. It is not a party political matter; the buck simply rests with the Minister in her current role.

I shall draw heavily on the work of the Aegis Trust and the International Crisis Group, as well as research provided by the all-party group on Sudan. I commend the hon. Member for Stroud, the chair of the all-party group, and his team on their excellent work. The Minister might agree that an hour and a half is not enough time to cover all the pertinent points. If the all-party group collates some of the remaining questions and research from the Aegis Trust, perhaps she could respond fully in something between a letter and a Select Committee reply—clearly, it would not be appropriate for her to go that far—and come back to the group in slightly more substantial detail. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Stroud is nodding assent, so perhaps that is a sensible way forward on the points that are not covered.

Sudan is racked with conflict. In only 11 of the past 50 years or so has there been anything other than a state of civil war. One of the things that compelled me to face the enormity of the situation is the number of people who have died—not the absolute number, but the change in number. The figure of 200,000 was quoted time and again until Jan Egeland pointed out that as it applied two and a half years ago, it was probably out of date, and that 400,000 might be more appropriate. Overnight, everyone has suddenly started using the figure of 400,000, which is double what they were talking about only months ago. That brought home the horrendous nature of what has happened.

The Aegis Trust is good at bringing to the forefront the contemporary nature of the atrocities. I visited the trust in Rwanda as part of a visit with Christian Aid and Oxfam, and one of the things that concerned me was how normal the context is within which genocide and atrocities take place. It is far too easy to think of Sudan and Darfur as faraway places that are somehow different from the United Kingdom. I have not had the opportunity to visit Sudan, but from my extensive travels in other African countries I think that the similarities between our continents and countries are much greater than we realise.

I shall concentrate on five core areas and come on to make some action points. It is important that we consider action rather than words, as we have had far too many words without action. I shall concentrate on the no-fly zone, sanctions—particularly travel sanctions—the logistics of delivering aid within the area, the UN force and China's role. On the no-fly zone, will the Minister confirm what methods are being considered? Most of the documentation refers to helicopter cover of the no-fly zone, but the Prime Minister stated on 12 March that he had considered the no-fly zone, and that he

"would like to move ahead, if it were at all possible; however, we have to accept that the area to be policed is the geographical size of France and large numbers of aeroplanes would be needed."—[Hansard, 12 March 2008; Vol. 473, c. 275.]

He was speaking of aeroplanes, not helicopters, which are more commonly considered.

I appreciate the constraints on our military, but if we accept that they exist to do anything more than simply protect the United Kingdom and defend the realm, surely it is for exactly such a situation, in which relatively little effort could have a massive impact. I realise that there are sensitivities, but I cannot help but think that, given some international focus, a small force—perhaps at the air base in Chad, which I understand is controlled or at least influenced by the French—could quickly clear the airspace. If one or two of its aircraft were shot down, the Sudanese army would not want to put further aircraft into the sky for fear of losing them.

Photo of Tom Clarke Tom Clarke Labour, Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on obtaining this debate, and on quite properly and rightly keeping the focus on Sudan. On no-fly zones, I recall hearing at a meeting of the all-party group—my hon. Friend Mr. Drew is the main person responsible for keeping that group going—that we should not push the issue too far, because negotiations were under way and we should not upset the Sudanese Government. However, given that they have gone back on everything else that they have said, does the hon. Gentleman agree that that view is not sustainable?

Photo of James Duddridge James Duddridge Opposition Whip (Commons)

I totally agree that that view is not sustainable, and I shall come on to draw parallels with the Zimbabwe sanctions. As Back-Bench Members, we must speak up loudly and clearly on those issues and ask our Government to speak with a loud and clear voice, too. It is the only thing that seems to be heard and to work.

Photo of John Barrett John Barrett Shadow Minister, International Development, Shadow Minister, Work & Pensions

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that in the face of constant denials from the Sudanese Government about their involvement from the air, it is absolutely clear that in the past, only they have had Antonov bombers and helicopter gunships, so a no-fly zone would take out of the game the only people with power from the air—the Sudanese Government?

Photo of James Duddridge James Duddridge Opposition Whip (Commons)

I completely agree. It is particularly distressing that the Sudanese Government sometime fly under a United Nations banner to disguise what they are doing. Even if we cannot go the whole way and secure a no-fly zone, the European Union, NATO and the United Kingdom should lead an observation mission to see what is happening with those aircraft and how they are being used. In a previous debate, one of my hon. Friends—I think it may have been my hon. Friend Tony Baldry—talked about seeing planes fly off on aid missions at the same time as attack aircraft were heading off to commit atrocities. Clearly, that is a ludicrous situation.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Conservative, Buckingham

Pursuant to the points made by right hon. and hon. Members, may I say to my hon. Friend that first, absolutely no significance whatever is to be attached to the denials ritually issued by the Sudanese Government, because they are characterised by institutional mendacity? If they are not flying over and engaging in atrocities from the air, they have no reason to fear a no-fly zone. Secondly, is my hon. Friend conscious that the British Government committed to the notion of a no-fly zone as long ago as December 2004? The idea is old news; it is a question of giving effect to it.

Photo of James Duddridge James Duddridge Opposition Whip (Commons)

I very much agree, and note the issue about the United Kingdom Government's position. Resources are stretched with our helicopters in Afghanistan and Iraq, but we can use our technical capability to provide pilots rather than aircraft. When other countries provide aircraft, we can use our engineers to keep those aircraft up and working, and we can also use international pressure and persuasion. I understand that as late as last month, Russia was prepared to offer helicopters to the zone, and Lord Malloch-Brown, who has ministerial responsibility for Africa, stated that he was following up that offer. In addition, we can back up our promise not with physical aircraft but with money to pay for aircraft, either via private companies—although I understand that there are concerns about private companies operating helicopters, and particularly about their capability—or by paying for helicopters, possibly from the Chinese and Indian armies, which are prepared to offer the physical resources but not to provide the financial backing.

Photo of Bob Spink Bob Spink Independent Conservative, Castle Point

My hon. Friend, along with other hon. Members, has talked about attacks from the air by aircraft, but is he aware that there is ample evidence from the people in the refugee camps of the Sudanese army delivering troops to drive them out of their villages? Aircraft are delivering troops on the ground, not just attacking from the air.

Photo of James Duddridge James Duddridge Opposition Whip (Commons)

It is clear that there is a great deal of evidence of total complicity between the Sudanese Government and non-governmental organisations to the same end.

I shall turn to sanctions, because on that issue more than any other, the British Government's words do not match their actions. On 18 July 2007, the Prime Minister said that

"we are prepared to take further sanctions against the Government".—[Hansard, 18 July 2007; Vol. 463, c. 273.]

On 20 July 2007, he talked about the

"toughening up of sanctions that will put pressure on the regime".

On 23 July 2007, he said that

"we are also prepared to impose further sanctions".

On 30 July 2007, speaking at a press conference with George W. Bush, the Prime Minister said that we will have

"further sanctions if this does not happen."

In a speech to the UN, he said that

"if any party blocks progress and the killings continue, I and others will redouble our efforts to impose further sanctions."

On 30 August, he said that

"we will work together for further sanctions".

There has been plenty of talk of the threat of sanctions. I could go on and on with such examples, but we have not seen any action. It is time for the British Government to act, not to talk tough.

In Zimbabwe, through the EU, we eventually imposed a number of travel sanctions. The UK was very timid about Zimbabwe, and I understand the reasons why, but accusations of our being a colonial power do not apply to Darfur and Sudan, so we encourage the Government to bring forward much more detailed sanctions and back up words with action. Having until recently been a member of the Select Committee on International Development, I am more familiar with the subject of aid logistics. There is simply not the peace or space in which to operate a strong development programme effectively. In the past three months alone, according to figures from the United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs, there have been four attacks on convoys and 18 attacks and attempted invasions of premises; three personnel from international organisations have been arrested or detained without good reason; 84 humanitarian personnel have been kidnapped; nine personnel have been physically or sexually assaulted, and three aid workers have been killed. In order for us to help the people of Darfur, the Government of Sudan must do more to help the international community and the aid community gain free movement throughout the country.

Before I talk about the role of the UN force, I shall quote the secretariat of the all-party group on Sudan, which made a telling point:

"Having more troops and armoured vehicles and helicopters will help but it will not address the fundamental problem that...a ceasefire" cannot be sustained when the parties are determined to violate it. The secretariat went on to say that that

"cannot provide overall security for a civilian population spread across such a large area."

We need to establish peace, but I shall leave it to other Members to discuss the internal politics of Sudan, because I do not have time to address that in my speech.

We need to do more to support the delivery of the UN force, and to stop the Sudanese Government blocking certain nations from entering the country and picking and choosing others. The force should be predominantly, but not entirely, African. Examples of basic equipment for the peacekeeping force being stuck in customs for eight to 10 weeks, and sometimes more, are wholly unacceptable. The Sudanese Government are simply trying to interfere and prevent the peacekeepers from arriving and discharging their responsibilities.

I should also like the Minister to address the issue of China. I am heartened that the Chinese have offered to provide helicopters. However, I am concerned about China's role in Sudan, particularly in the oil industry, and I have been unable to bottom out the degree and impact of that influence. I should like the Minister to deal with five areas in her reply. On the no-fly zone, what are we going to do? On travel sanctions, will we get actions that match words? On the arms embargo, will we enforce it and extend it from Darfur to Sudan more broadly? What are we going to do to put pressure on Sudan more generally? Finally, will the Minister agree to reply more fully to the points that Aegis and the all-party group on Sudan have made?

Photo of James Duddridge James Duddridge Opposition Whip (Commons)

I shall not go through all the points that Aegis made, but some are worth putting on the record. They include recommendations on the humanitarian situation such as a proposal

"to convene a donor conference...to end the bureaucratic hurdles put in the way of humanitarian agencies and NGOs...and...to ensure that no further IDPs"— internally displaced peoples—

"are forcibly returned".

Aegis goes on to make recommendations about the security situation. It wants to ensure that there is a monitoring regime for the "air assets" of the Sudanese army, to which I referred earlier; it wants to extend the arms embargo—another issue that I touched on earlier—and finally it recommends putting an EU force in Chad to monitor cross-border movements, which is something to which I have not referred.

Regarding the UN, Aegis wants a stop to the bureaucratic delays that prevent troops from being allowed in to contribute towards the UN force. The British Government could examine whether they could underwrite some of the helicopter costs. Finally, we must ensure that the British Government have appropriate high-level contacts with their Russian and Ukrainian counterparts about helicopter funding. I am conscious that there is so very much more to say, but I wish to leave it at that, to allow other colleagues to contribute to this very important debate.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour, Stroud 9:50 am, 1st April 2008

I would like to thank James Duddridge, who is my friend in this respect, for securing this debate, because it is obviously very important that we discuss Darfur at this time. It is good to see so many friends here in Westminster Hall.

I would like to thank Chris Milner, the co-ordinator of the all-party group on Sudan, who has briefed us very well, and it is good to see representatives from the joint unit from the Foreign Office and the Department for International Development. I will say, on behalf of the Government, that the joint unit continues to invest considerable time and money and I hope that the Minister will take that as a commendation. Michael O'Neill continues to shuffle around as the special representative to Sudan and we were also fortunate to get a confidential briefing from the Minister's friend, Lord Malloch-Brown, on some of the issues that continue to dominate any discussion of Darfur.

The background is all too awful. If anything, the current estimate of the number of people killed in Darfur is rising from the 200,000 that was talked about as a matter of course to somewhere between 200,000 and 400,000. So that is the context in which we are working.

I have two observations about general security issues. I would like to talk about the security situation and then talk about how we can hopefully pursue peace. The sad thing now is that the conflict in Darfur is increasingly a regional and proxy conflict. Certainly, we cannot talk about Darfur without including Chad as part of the conflict, so porous are the boundaries between them. We have clearly seen the antagonism between President al-Bashir and President Deby. Of course, we also have the increasingly internal complexities, which move from banditry through to localised and communal violence. That progression has made what was already an awful situation an even more difficult one to try to solve.

Unfortunately the international community has still not risen to the challenge; the hon. Gentleman made that point absolutely clear. Darfur is not Britain's responsibility; it is the world's responsibility. Sadly, we have yet fully to come to terms with the mistakes that we have made in the past, and we have not learned from those mistakes.

As always, and as I have already said today, my starting point is that this is not just a conflict about Darfur. Anyone who knows anything about Sudan will be worried about the comprehensive peace agreement and the way that it could be threatened by the conflict. There is a lot of evidence that, within Sudan itself, tensions within Kordofan are beginning to rise. The all-party group hopes to go to the east of Sudan sometime later this year; we are always threatening to go to the east of Sudan, but we never quite get there. There are worrying indications that the east of Sudan is not at all settled and that the situation could easily spark into conflict.

On the plus side, I welcome the Government's support for the appointment of Sir Derek Plumbly, the retired British diplomat, to head the assessment and evaluation commission, which is charged with overseeing the comprehensive peace agreement, or CPA. We must not ever lose sight of the fact that there is a wider game going on within Sudan at the moment.

I would like to concentrate on Darfur and Chad for the moment. All the evidence is that the fighting is now worse than ever. We have a lot of evidence that the Sudanese Government are increasingly using fixed-wing aircraft, supposedly to try to deal with the insurrection on the ground. Recently, we have received information that the towns of Suleia and Sirba were completely destroyed. That type of destruction is completely new; we have seen villages razed before, but now we are seeing towns being ransacked and ravaged. The civilians are now being driven further afield, into the Jebel Moun area, where they are trapped by Government forces. We also now have evidence that both the Justice for Equality Movement, or JEM, and the Sudan Liberation Army, or SLA, are beginning to get military hardware and are bombing civilians too.

Photo of John Barrett John Barrett Shadow Minister, International Development, Shadow Minister, Work & Pensions

I thank the hon. Gentleman, the chairman of the all-party group on Sudan, for giving way. Would he agree that the amount of arms and support—both military and financial support—that the rebels on the ground have appears to be clear evidence that the Sudanese Government play an active part in worsening the situation, that they are financing those rebels, and that they are therefore part of the problem rather than part of the solution?

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour, Stroud

The Sudanese Government certainly are part of the problem, but, as I have said before, they have to be part of the solution. On that point, I do not know how many hon. Members saw the recent "Unreported World" programme on Channel 4, in which the programme makers went to talk to the Arab militias. Those militias clearly stated that they received their arms from the Sudanese Government. Arming them was not a great success, inasmuch as they then fought the Sudanese Government, but then again only the Sudanese could come back and join forces with the Sudanese Government. However, the important point is that the arms are coming through Khartoum, although, of course, they are mainly supplied through China, which has a key role to play.

So, on the ground the situation is pretty depressing; we cannot think otherwise. I suppose we must hold out some hope that the recent peace agreement between President al-Bashir and President Deby has some chance of success, but I would like to know what the Government are now doing to encourage the two Presidents and to explain to them that they must get a ceasefire in place and pursue an active peace. It will be interesting to see what the agreement made on 13 March can yield.

The amount of fighting on the ground is depressing in the sense that it is not at all clear who is supplying whom with arms or what the outcome of the conflict could possibly be. I well remember that, about four years ago, in the early days of the conflict, we had a visit from one of the representatives of the SLA. One never knows whether such representatives have any real link to the fighting that is going on at the front. However, Baroness Tonge and I quizzed this person on what they wanted to get out of the conflict—if they had started it—and it was not at all clear what they wanted. That is part of the problem: the objectives of the rebels and the Arab militias are not at all clear, apart from the fact that this conflict could be seen as the first water war. Therefore, to try to sue for peace is increasingly difficult.

I do not know how many hon. Members heard him, but it was good when the all-party group on China got China's special representative to Darfur, Liu Guijin, to address us. It was good to see that, for the first time, the Chinese were at least aware of their responsibilities, and that they were less than inscrutable—in fact, they were pretty blunt—about what they felt they had to do on the ground. Whether they can do it—or indeed have already done it—would be interesting to find out, and the Government may want to say something about that.

Furthermore, we must not underestimate how important it is to see the Arab element of this conflict. We go on about the Sudan Government, and about the rebels, including the SLA, JEM and various other fragmented groups, but the Arab militias are increasingly part of the solution, as well, of course, as being a significant part of the problem. We have this phenomenon now of "jundi masrool"—my Arabic is not very good, but I am sure that Hansard will get that right—which are Arab groups, particularly around Nyala, that are threatening to attack the Government of Sudan.

I talked about the Channel 4 programme and the groups appeared on that. They are threatening to attack the Government, because they believe that they have not been compensated by Khartoum and that they have been used, misused and abused by Khartoum. It is worrying that those people are swapping sides, effectively as mercenaries, so we need to do some capacity building among the Arab groups.

When we visited last year, we attended an interesting meeting between Salim Ahmed Salim and various EU representatives, and Arab groups. It was clear that the Arabs felt that they had been left out of many of the discussions and attempts to bring the conflict to an early end. We must not give them a justification to continue fighting by allowing them to feel excluded.

We could talk endlessly about the conflict and the dire security situation, but I want to move on to some of the solutions. We must ensure that the force personnel are up to scratch, because the figures are depressing. This force should be on the ground. We have to be realistic: this will not be a duck shoot. We will need brave people to put themselves on the front line not knowing who will attack them, but if we cannot get the 26,000 personnel, we are doomed. I know that the Government cannot provide front-line forces, but they could provide genuine back-up. What are they doing to persuade the nations of the world that they must make a contribution? The hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East talked about helicopters, which are crucial, because mobility is key. People need to be moved about. I think of previous occasions, on which very brave people, particularly Nigerian peacekeepers—

Photo of Tom Clarke Tom Clarke Labour, Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill

I would like to thank—as we all would—my hon. Friend for his marvellous work in this field, as well as for his other parliamentary activities. Does he recall that I recently put down a question to the Ministry of Defence about helicopters? I was told that, even allowing for helicopters awaiting repair, there is a supply that could be made available, although I have not heard whether that contribution has been made. Does he feel that there is sufficient coherence across Departments for us to make the contribution that we all want to be made?

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour, Stroud

I agree. We need not only helicopters, but helicopters that will do the business, and I am a bit worried that we are searching the world for helicopters, some of which might not be fit for purpose. We need those helicopters in place soon with people to go in them. Will the Minister tell us what those figures are, what we can expect over the coming months and—dare I say it—who is paying for it? Everyone says that money is not a problem, but if that is the case, what is the problem? We need to know who is subscribing and whether they are subscribing what they said they would or whether there is a shortfall.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour, Stroud

I shall give way to my hon. Friend.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Conservative, Buckingham

I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman, whom I too regard as a friend, for generously giving way. I have a distinct sense that we have seen this all before—I shall not use the French expression in this Chamber. Does he recall, that in May 2006, when Westminster Hall was temporarily relocated, he and I took part in a debate on Darfur answered by the then Secretary of State for International Development, Hilary Benn? There was talk of the deployment of an intended 20,000-strong force, which we hoped would be fully deployed within a matter of months, and certainly by the autumn—that was in May 2006. Is it not risible that only one third of the force—at best—has been deployed 22 months later?

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour, Stroud

Of course, it is. The worry is that if we go in with lesser numbers, which I fear might happen, we will not only put people in an invidious position but put their lives in danger, which of course will be the result of further delay. Nevertheless, we need to get on with this, so I hope that the Minister will at least give us the truth, if not more positive news.

A peace process is needed to underline the efforts being made. As we know, the problem with the Darfur peace agreement was that it did not work on the ground, partly because the rebel groups were split among themselves. Some of the biggest problems on the ground are being caused by Minni Minnawi's forces, who actually agreed with the peace deal, because apparently their people were unrewarded, and who, therefore, have been acting as a completely mercenary force. We need to know what has happened to the ceasefire and who is talking to whom. It all seems to have gone very quiet amid all the shuttling around. I know that everyone is waiting for Abdul Wahid to come out of Paris, but as far as I can see he is not going to. He might be popular in the camps, but his unwillingness to search for a ceasefire and a lasting peace is a problem.

The all-party group recommended not only that we get the security situation right, but that we continue with discussions, which have much to do with what is happening on the ground. We invented this wonderful term: the Darfur-to-Darfur dialogue and consultation. Those of us who know a lot about Ds know that it means different things to different people. However, it would be good to know how much time and money have been invested to get the various groups talking to one another. Someone has to ensure that people are willing to talk and engage with one another. There is news that Mohamed Sahnoun is being talked about as the new joint chief mediator. It would be helpful to know if somebody is in place, because at the moment it is not clear who is leading the mediation process.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Conservative, Buckingham

I think that we all agree that we urgently need decent negotiations leading to a proper peace, but I am concerned about whether there is an incentive for the Sudanese Government to pursue peace, if they feel emboldened and wealthy enough to continue with their activities. The hon. Gentleman referred to China recognising its responsibility. Does he agree that the Chinese Government could demonstrate their acceptance of responsibility by agreeing to a trust fund with oil revenues, which otherwise would accrue to the Sudanese Government, being put in some sort escrow account until a peace is secured?

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour, Stroud

That is absolutely right, but, as the hon. Gentleman knows, there is also the Government of South Sudan, so it would be a devil of a job unpicking who gets what. Sanctions must be applied, because what else can we do? The regime in Khartoum either lives in denial for some of the time or is part of the reason that the conflict continues.

We want evidence that the United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur force can be properly subscribed to and is about to be launched properly on the ground. As we, sadly, approach the fifth birthday of the conflict, we must look at what is happening on the ground and at the political solutions that have to be found, which appear to be as far away as ever. It will come down to much effort on the part of various Governments and the fact that we must offer people money and resources to persuade them to stop fighting, which will become longer-term commitments. To those of us who visited the south last year to see what was happening, it was depressingly clear that so much of the budget goes to the military, and we must prevent that from happening in Darfur. That money must go into education, health and capacity building, not into arming the police, because we all know what the repercussions of that would be.

I am afraid that the situation is very gloomy, so I hope that the Minister will be honest in stating that we are no nearer a solution, and speak the truth so that we at least know what direction we are going in. We just have to persuade the world not to lose interest in Darfur and to get on and do what it has to do.

Photo of Elfyn Llwyd Elfyn Llwyd Shadow Spokesperson (Innovation, Universities and Skills), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Justice) 10:09 am, 1st April 2008

I shall be as quick as I can, because many other Members wish to speak. I was in Darfur at the beginning of December last year, and saw the displaced persons camp at El Fashir—there were 10,000 more people in that camp than there are in my constituency. The local governor, or walid, assured us that things were hunky dory and that there was no violence any more. He said that kidnappings were down, there were no more beatings on the ground and that everything was going in the right direction. The reality, of course, was quite different. We were told by innocent people in the camp that they were beaten up the night before by men wearing boots, which means they were Government militia.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Conservative, Buckingham

Regarding the hon. Gentleman's comments about the walid, he will recall that in the old days, tractor production was up in the Soviet Union.

Photo of Elfyn Llwyd Elfyn Llwyd Shadow Spokesperson (Innovation, Universities and Skills), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Justice)

That is on a par with the kind of assurances that we were given. What we saw was an absolute abomination. Yes, there was clean water and food and there were limited medical supplies, but the situation there should not be tolerated for much longer by anyone in the Chamber or anywhere else.

When I was there, I had the pleasure of meeting a young Nigerian army colonel who headed up the African Union force. He was quite firm about what he required, and told me that he had inadequate troop numbers at under 6,000—he obviously needed far more. He talked about the 100 camps for displaced persons in Darfur, and the lack of heavy calibre weapons and helicopters, which we have discussed. Such equipment would enable the disruption of or interference with Government militia attacks.

I congratulate James Duddridge on securing the debate. The point has been well made that there are only two or three roads in the whole of Darfur. Time and again, when people want to explain their inactivity, they say that Darfur is as large as France. That may be, but whether it is larger or smaller than France does not make the situation any easier on anyone's conscience; it simply makes the point that we need aerial intervention. The young colonel said that his work could be 10 times more effective with such intervention. He also said that water is a problem in some places, as is the delay in paying mission troops, which rather surprised me.

The colonel said that the killings—or genocide, as Colin Powell described it—had subsided, but that the situation is far from happy. He referred to the UN support, including the light support package, the heavy support package and the hybrid force, and said that the situation continues to be unpredictable. There is open conflict between signatories of the comprehensive peace agreement and non-signatories, and the Janjaweed continue to operate. He said that the Government of Sudan need to remove the 6 pm flying curfew so that medical and other emergencies can be tackled. People dealing with such emergencies need to fly at night, and the Sudanese Government need to facilitate the movement of equipment and personnel, and to fast-track visas for that purpose. I asked him how long ago he had made those requests, and he replied, with a great deal of sadness, "A very long time ago."

Following those interesting discussions in Darfur, we returned to Khartoum and met President al-Bashir who said, surprisingly, that everything is fine and that there are no real problems. We specifically asked about the air curfew and the continued beatings, but instead of answering our questions fully, he gave answers that could not be believed. It was a waste of time speaking to him. I should not say that about a person in power, but I could not care less; I believed nothing that he said. In the end, he turned on us, saying, "Who are you western politicians to interfere here? You are in favour of the escapades in Iraq and Afghanistan." I replied that I had voted against both of those, and said that we were there to ask him questions. The responses were abominable.

The next day, we went to the National Assembly, where we heard the same accusations of interference from the west. It seems to me that they are the only people who are content with the situation. The Sudanese Government are happy for this ghastly stand-off to continue, for those operations to happen covertly and for innocent people to continue to lose their lives simply because it suits them in Khartoum. The official line is that the comprehensive peace agreement was signed and that the west offered $4.5 billion. So far, 16 per cent. of that has been paid, but the west is concerned about the treatment of people in Darfur, so there is a chicken and egg situation. That point was put to them, but they said, "No, the donor powers are in breach of their agreement to pay that money." Why on earth should the west pay the money when the killing and displacement continues? Why should it pay those billions of dollars, and where would that money go? We were also told that non-governmental organisations were reporting far fewer car-jackings and acts of violence, but when we met the NGOs, we heard an entirely different story.

Although we need to secure a peace agreement at some point, the immediate problem that must be dealt with is that of air power and helicopters. We understand that Ukraine, Russia and even Brazil have helicopters ready. The hon. Gentleman said that if we did not provide hardware, we could provide expertise and back-up. We must urge our Government to do so, because it would save lives and ultimately make it less attractive for Khartoum to sit back and allow the ghastly and deadly stand-off to continue. As always, the ones who suffer are the innocent, and this situation is no exception.

I have kept my comments to a minimum, because much has been said already and I agree with everything that has been said. I hope that the Government will give us some assurances and will not roll out the excuse about Darfur being as big as France, which does not impress any of us. The no-fly zone in the north of Iraq was a damn sight bigger than France, but something happened there. I urge the Government to speak to international partners who are able to donate the necessary equipment, and to put in what they can as soon as possible, so that we can avoid further atrocities in that troubled land.

Photo of Eric Martlew Eric Martlew Labour, Carlisle

I would like to start the wind-ups at about 10.30 am; there are two Back Benchers who wish to speak.

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Conservative, Banbury 10:16 am, 1st April 2008

Christian Aid used to have a poster that said, "We believe in life before death". I sometimes think that there could be a poster of Darfur that simply said, "There is hell on earth". I have four questions for the Minister, which are genuine requests for information rather than an attack on her.

First, when the conflict started, it was thought to be climate-inspired, because of the desert moving across and there being insufficient grassland. There was conflict between pastoralists, who are generally of Arab background, and farmers, who are generally of black African background, which was supported by Khartoum. The suggestion now seems to be that there is a broader, regional conflict between Sudan and Chad—between al-Bashir and Deby. Is that correct? What is the view of the Foreign Office? There have been about six regional peace agreements between Chad and Sudan in almost as many years—most recently, last month—but nothing seems to come of them. Are there various groups within Darfur that are proxy groups to Sudan and Chad, or are Sudan and Chad simply supporting their own teams within Darfur?

Secondly, I want to ask about the United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur, which was set up in July 2007 under UN resolution 1769. I understand that of the 26,000 troops who were to be committed, UNAMID is still short of 15,000 African troops, primarily from the African Union. Why have they not been forthcoming? Is it simply because there is a lack of funds to pay for them, or because African countries are simply unwilling to commit those troops? There have been notable exceptions such as Nigeria, but why, in the view of the Foreign Office, is UNAMID so poorly resourced? Given that countries such as Ethiopia have offered helicopters, why has it not been possible to give UNAMID the airlift that is required? Until UNAMID is fully functional, there is no hope of having any peacekeeping mission at all, as those of us who have visited Darfur know only too well. All that one is doing is putting peacekeepers at considerable risk.

Thirdly, to what extent do we understand the agenda of groups such as the Justice and Equality Movement, and the Sudan Liberation Army? More and more actors and players are appearing on the stage, but there is increasing incoherence. To what extent do we know what they want to achieve? That takes me to my fourth question, which is about process. Clearly, two processes need to be pursued. One involves a ceasefire and peacekeeping, which is largely dependent on UNAMID, and requires peacekeepers on the ground and ensuring that there are no aerial attacks on villages and so on. The other process involves moving towards a peaceful solution. There has been some UN mediation, but it seems to have broken down, largely because people thought that there was no proper process or that they were being given unrealistic deadlines. There are a couple of mediators whom some factions do not particularly like, and it seems that there is now no process at all.

It would be helpful to hear from the Foreign Office what is being done under UN auspices in respect of a peace process that will help to resolve the issue and lock in all the various players. We all know that, sooner or later, that has to happen. It happened painfully in Somalia, where it took a long time to make any progress. The longer we go without any kind of peace process and without trying to oblige people to take part in it, the more the situation in Darfur and the surrounding area will fracture and become increasingly difficult. I would welcome the Foreign Office's views on those four points. This is one of those tragic conflicts that are progressively getting worse rather than better.

Photo of John Barrett John Barrett Shadow Minister, International Development, Shadow Minister, Work & Pensions 10:21 am, 1st April 2008

I congratulate James Duddridge on triggering this debate, because while there is much television coverage of what is happening in Tibet just now, it appears, sadly, that many television crews have left Darfur. There is not enough concentration on that conflict, so I congratulate him on raising it today. I shall return to the issue of Chinese involvement—I was glad that the hon. Gentleman raised it—because I believe that the Chinese Government have an important part to play in finding a solution to some of the problems in Darfur.

It has been a while since I was last in Darfur, but the images in my mind and the memories of the men, women and children who are suffering in that God-forsaken land are as clear as ever. I hope that they will stay with me until peace unfolds and the children who have never known peace are allowed to have a childhood of their own. As many Members have said, all the ingredients for disaster are present in Darfur: poverty, hunger, disease, corruption, conflict, too many guns, the impact of global warming on pastoralists and local farmers, outside interference, religious and ethnic disputes and much more.

However, in most countries where a disaster unfolds, the Government normally search for a solution. In this case, the Government are at the heart of the problem. I shall not repeat what has already been said by many Members, but the Sudanese Government must be brought into discussions, whether through a peace agreement or through countries continuing to push for sanctions and a strengthened force on the ground to deliver peace. As Mr. Llwyd said, the scale of refugee camps is absolutely stunning. When I visited Nyala, there were 120,000 people there—more people than are in my entire constituency. Villages are still being bombed from the air and abandoned, and people are being intimidated on the ground.

A solution to the problem has been debated on several occasions in this Hall and in the main Chamber, but I wish quickly to run through a few points in the time that I have. First, I ask the Minister for an update on progress towards full implementation of the ill-fated comprehensive peace agreement. No one here today will be expecting particularly encouraging news, but it is important to ensure that an agreement remains a priority for the international community. Clearly, the deadline diplomacy that brokered the last agreement has not achieved as much as we would have liked, and it is important that we recognise why that is the case.

Neighbouring countries such as Chad are now part of the problem. It is a regional problem, not just a Darfur problem. We heard earlier about the peacekeeping force that is required, and I remember speaking to African Union peacekeepers who said that they needed extra forces on the ground, extra support and helicopters because, as has been said several times—it is no excuse—Darfur on its own, let alone whole of Sudan, is massive. As was mentioned by Mr. Drew, we see hot spots elsewhere in Sudan. The peace in areas such as the south, which has been calmed down in the past, is fragile, and we fear that similar problems will erupt in the east and in other regions of Sudan.

I alluded in my introductory remarks to the number of guns. This Government can play an important part in ensuring that we play no part in contributing to the volume of arms that find their way into Sudan, whether through arms deals or through neighbouring countries. There is real concern about the number of export licences that we grant in this country for small arms that are imported and re-exported. I remember raising a question with several Government Departments about that. We re-exported more than 2 million small arms in one year—in 2005-06. I asked several Government Departments where those small arms went, but nobody could give me an answer. I do not expect that the Minister will be able to give me an answer today, but I suggest that she look into the issue of small arms that are imported to the UK and then re-exported. They are not ending up, we hope, in the UK, so they are probably ending up in conflict zones around the world. If she could look into that and get more information, I would be glad to hear from her.

The humanitarian situation is an absolute disaster. Perhaps the most disturbing aspect is the one to which I alluded in my opening remarks; namely, the impact of the conflict on the children of Sudan. So far, 1.8 million children have been affected by the conflict, with 1 million displaced and 800 unaccounted for. Those who have been displaced are now spending their formative years in camps and, understandably, are traumatised by what they have seen. The threat of kidnapping and enforced servitude as child soldiers is never far away, and the dearth of educational opportunities is clearly jeopardising the future prospects of millions. A generation is growing up who will have known only war, and, unless we act now, it may prove a difficult habit to break.

I am sure the Minister will agree that one of the most keenly learned lessons from Sierra Leone is that any successful move towards post-conflict peace-building must have at its core the needs and aspirations of the next generation or risk being hamstrung from the start. I would welcome the Minister's thoughts on what we can do to help the children of Darfur and to give them hope for a brighter future. They should be given hope. Although they cannot live on hope alone, we should ensure that they do have hope for the future.

I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say. Nothing has been said by any Member with which I disagree, but we cannot come back in six months, a year, two years or five years and say that we debated this matter in April 2008—tragically, on April fools' day. We would be fools if we were to come back in years to come but nothing had moved on. We must see progress on this matter.

Photo of Michael Moore Michael Moore Shadow Secretary of State for International Development, Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland 10:28 am, 1st April 2008

I am delighted to follow my hon. Friend John Barrett in this important debate. It has been brief but passionate. I add my congratulations to James Duddridge on securing this debate and on introducing it in a comprehensive fashion. We have had telling contributions and interventions from Members on both sides of the Chamber. We heard from Mr. Clarke and John Bercow, and we know that many in the House care passionately about the situation. Perhaps the Minister will suggest through the usual channels that the time has come once again for a debate in the main Chamber, where more Members would be able to participate, and where we could discuss a broader range of questions and issues.

Sometimes parliamentary format and the very architecture of this Room bring measured tones and the discipline of debate but strip out the passion and anguish. Today, we managed to rise above and beyond that.

I am conscious that we are five years into this terrible carnage. I have been struck by the references so far to the people who have been killed—the estimates have now doubled from those that we have been used to quoting for some years—and by the numbers of displaced people and those in camps. That should be related to the parts of the world that we represent to show the enormity of the catastrophe that has unfolded year after year in Sudan and particularly in Darfur.

It is important that the Minister has a full opportunity to answer the many questions that have been asked, so I will focus on two or three main points and allow the Conservative Opposition spokesman to speak before she does so.

We must never lose sight of the sheer scale of what is going on or of the efforts of the Sudanese Government to make it worse: it is not simply about their containing the situation or making it better; as others have observed, they are actually colluding or directly involved in making the situation worse. We have all been approached by the non-governmental organisations—the charities and aid agencies—stressing that their key workers are under attack when trying to deliver water and food and trying just to make their own lives secure. The compounds of those who are there to help are being attacked by militias and others.

There is a chronic shortage of essential equipment. The UN has to reach some 400,000 people by air, yet we read that its humanitarian air service has funding only for another month. I hope that the Minister can assure us about the long-term funding of that essential service, without which a huge number of displaced people and refugees will go hungry and be in an even worse condition than at present.

More broadly, we read in the Financial Times and elsewhere in recent days of the chronic problems facing the World Food Programme, which urgently needs another £250 million for its worldwide programme or else it will be forced to implement rationing. That is inconceivable. I hope that, in response to the undoubted problems with commodity and fuel prices and shipping costs, Britain and other European partners will be taking the lead in responding to the World Food Programme's concerns.

Colleagues have already mentioned the military situation in Sudan, particularly the lack of numbers and the slow handover from the African Union Mission in Sudan to the United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur. Although we have a better mandate now—there is not just a monitoring process, but a duty to protect—the numbers are pathetic. Even if the full force were to get to 26,000 it would be barely credible, but we are dealing with less than half of that. Again, I appreciate that there are frustrating, difficult issues to get round in the world of diplomacy, but I hope that the Minister will demonstrate some sense of urgency in respect of how this matter is being tackled. In particular, she has been asked to respond to the issue of helicopters, which was raised at the Foreign Office questions last month by my hon. Friend Mr. Davey and many other hon. Members. I hope that she will be able to report some progress to us today.

The Sudanese wish to obstruct just about everything that we try to do. Surely, in response, we must tighten our grip on them and tighten the sanctions that are there. The United Nations adopted the duty to protect as part of its raison d'être—to use French where John Bercow avoided doing so earlier—and although we can see the most obvious example of our need to step up and do just that, we are failing. The recent reports from the Secretary-General to the Security Council were as depressing as anything else reported here today. A chapter 7 resolution was finally passed last summer. All necessary means can be used, but, my goodness, we are not defining that in very good terms at present. That is something of a sick joke.

The United Kingdom has an opportunity; it chairs the Security Council in May. I hope that we will see serious diplomatic initiatives to extend the asset freezes that are already in place, but which are limited, extend the travel bans and look hard at the arms embargo. My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West made an important point about Britain's role in small arms. Whether that issue is linked to Darfur, surely we should be looking a lot harder at what is going on.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Conservative, Buckingham

To the list of crimes that fully justify the comprehensive sanctions against the Government of Sudan that the hon. Gentleman rightly seeks, might I add one other item? It is true that the numbers of people in the camps have ballooned in the three years since Tony Baldry and I visited camps in Darfur. However, is there not another difficulty, which is that, in some cases, the Government of Sudan are organising forced, involuntary returns that are highly dangerous? The United Nations circulated a memo complaining about this last November. It is another example of a breach of human rights law by the Government of Sudan for which it should be indicted.

Photo of Michael Moore Michael Moore Shadow Secretary of State for International Development, Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland

I agree. Since the hon. Gentleman has raised that issue, we might highlight the complete lack of progress in getting hold of the two individuals who should be before the International Criminal Court but are not—and there are surely others to whom that should be extended.

Hon. Members have properly drawn attention to China's role. We must give China credit for recognising that there are problems in the area: it has appointed an envoy for Africa, who has taken interest in this matter and its support was crucial in getting resolution 1769 passed last year. But, frankly, that is not enough. I hope that the Government will ensure that, in this year of the Olympics, when China is learning that it has to face out to the world and deal with the world not just in respect of Tibet, it learns that its role in Sudan and Darfur matters as well.

I hope that today we can learn something of European efforts to bolster the mediation led by the AU and the UN and about our role in what other hon. Members have rightly mentioned is in danger of being a regional conflict. Darfur might only be the start of something. That is too awful to contemplate. We must ensure that we are doing all that is necessary.

Famously or infamously, the former Prime Minister, Mr. Blair, said that Africa was a scar on the conscience of the world and in Darfur we see one of its bleakest realities. It is a horrible situation. The response so far has been feeble. There really is a requirement to act now.

Photo of Keith Simpson Keith Simpson Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 10:37 am, 1st April 2008

I congratulate my hon. Friend James Duddridge on securing this debate. He spoke movingly about the situation in Darfur, but the most important thing that he said was that it was time for action rather than words.

All hon. Members have a great interest in this matter; many have been to Darfur and have spoken passionately about it, going back three or four years. There is a great welling up of frustration. As Mr. Drew said, there is frustration that the international community has failed to come up with a coherent, sustainable response to a disaster on a vast scale in the immediate area that may be tipping over into a vast regional catastrophe, as Mr. Moore, the Liberal Democrat spokesman, and others have said.

We should put on the record our praise for individuals and organisations, both at home and in the area, who have worked tirelessly. It must be incredibly frustrating to be an official, either in the Department for International Development or the Foreign Office, having to deal with this matter, let alone the individuals who bravely act on the ground. This is one of those disasters where the celebs come in, have a quick concert with some of the more up-market members of the media and move on to the next disaster. It is left to a lot of other people to sort it out.

Photo of John Barrett John Barrett Shadow Minister, International Development, Shadow Minister, Work & Pensions

In fairness, can I point out that some celebrities have had a long-term commitment to the region? I would not want the hon. Gentleman to think otherwise. Mia Farrow, for instance, has taken up this issue for many years.

Photo of Keith Simpson Keith Simpson Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. There are also some people in the media with a long-term interest. But we all know that all too often the caravan moves on.

As far as the international community is concerned, whatever the sheer practicalities—I shall not go over them again, but we should not underestimate the difficulties—its efforts have been a monstrous failure. If such a situation had recurred in China, Russia or the EU it would not be tolerated.

As all hon. Members have pointed out, the main responsibility for the overall situation in Darfur lies with the Sudanese Government. I know that, as at least one hon. Member has pointed out, we are incredibly vulnerable in this country in pulling our punches with regard to the situation not only in Darfur, but in Zimbabwe because of a colonial guilt complex. It is easy for many obnoxious regimes to say that a situation is due to the activities of former colonial powers, or to tell us to look at what we are doing in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The time has come to ignore such comments and not to allow that attitude to get in the way of what I believe is a noble enterprise, not just by this country and our allies, but by many African countries. Mr. Llwyd rightly pointed out the magnificent role of, for example, the Nigerian armed forces, and I do not think we should apologise.

The problem is what to do about a Sudanese Government that blocks the deployment of troops from Norway and Sweden, continues to withhold clearance for other contingents, has not yet fully approved the allocation of land and facilities for UN peacekeepers, and has impounded vital equipment, including armoured personnel carriers, for up to two months in customs. That action is not against individual countries; it is in direct defiance of the United Nations, which must do something about it.

I want to focus my comments on the role of the British Government and the Prime Minister. The Minister may think that I am trying to be partisan, but I happen to believe in an old fashioned thing called political leadership. I also happen to believe that such complex problems often take years to resolve. Jonathan Powell has written a book, "Great Hatred, Little Room", about making peace in Northern Ireland, and, going back to the time of John Major, I have been struck by the fact that it often takes years of very hard work to get some solution, and it takes time to keep that up at a high level of priority.

The Prime Minister, with much fanfare, launched with the French an action plan for Darfur, and last July he said that it was

"the greatest humanitarian disaster the world faces today."

He put forward an action plan of elements, which I shall go through quickly. The first is to secure a UN resolution mandating the deployment of a UN-African Union force. Yes, we have achieved that. The second is that once the UN resolution is passed we should be prepared together to go to Darfur to ensure that the peace process is moving forward. That has not yet happened. The third is to work for an immediate ceasefire on the ground and a cessation of violence. That has not yet been achieved. The fourth is to be prepared to contribute substantial sums of economic support as soon as a ceasefire makes it possible for us to achieve economic development in the area. That has not been achieved.

It is easy to for an Opposition spokesman to stand on the sidelines and play touchlinitis, but I would not play the ball that way. However, some of us in Opposition face the intriguing prospect that perhaps in 18 months we may have to deal with the matter for real. The fact is that if a Prime Minister makes a genuine commitment, he must be held to account for that, and we went through this three or four years ago. If the Prime Minister cannot deliver, he should not make such promises.

Finally, this is what my party believes must be achieved, and it pulls together the points made by a number of hon. Members. There should be further UN and EU sanctions if the Sudanese Government continue to restrict the full deployment of the UN force and the credible threat of sanctions now. There should be a major diplomatic drive to secure additional helicopters. I understand that at the NATO summit in Bucharest, the Prime Minister in the margins will have to try to get some helicopters from central and eastern European Members of NATO. There should be an arms embargo to cover the whole of Sudan. It is no good having an embargo just in the Darfur area; there must be a blanket embargo throughout Sudan. There should be a no-fly zone in Darfur. There should be support for the International Criminal Court in prosecuting Sudanese officials. Those ghastly people must understand that if they step outside Sudan they will be lifted in no uncertain terms.

The Prime Minister must to fulfil his pledge to put Darfur at the top of his foreign policy priorities. He believes passionately in that, so he must grip it and drive it through. At the end of the day, that is what leadership is all about, and his right hon. Friend the previous Prime Minister demonstrated that when he established the peace process in Northern Ireland.

Photo of Meg Munn Meg Munn Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) 10:46 am, 1st April 2008

I also congratulate James Duddridge on securing this important debate, and on the way in which he introduced it. I have received the Aegis Trust's briefing, and I give a commitment that if I am unable to respond to any issues and questions in the time available, I will respond in writing to the hon. Gentleman and place a copy of my letter in the Library so that all hon. Members may see it.

The turnout for this relatively short debate demonstrates the real concern in all parties about the dreadful situation, and I know that many other hon. Members share those concerns.

Photo of James Duddridge James Duddridge Opposition Whip (Commons)

I thank the Minister for her courtesy in responding to the Aegis Trust's briefing. I am not sure whether she has received the briefing from the all-party group on Sudan, which also makes a series of recommendations. If she has, perhaps she would consider extending her courtesy to replying to the issues raised in that document?

Photo of Meg Munn Meg Munn Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

Indeed, I shall.

Before going into the details, may I assure all hon. Members that this matter is a priority for the Government? There is a great deal of activity, but I may not be able to report all of it this morning. My noble Friend, Lord Malloch-Brown, who is the Minister for Africa, gives great priority to the issue in everything that he does.

I shall set out the context to which some hon. Members have referred, and perhaps they will forgive me if I do not refer specifically to them. It is important that I answer questions as fully as I can.

For more than 20 years, north and south Sudan have fought a vicious civil war with an estimated 2 million people having been killed, and many having been injured with untold numbers of women being raped. Many hundreds of thousands of people have been forced from their homes and villages to flee to wherever they thought they would be safe. The international community has tried to build the necessary confidence to make peace. In 2005, a fragile peace was put in place with the signing of the comprehensive peace agreement. Although the peace has held, lack of political will and trust on both sides has caused the agreement to falter. We are pressing everyone to continue implementing the comprehensive peace agreement. We support the census, which is due later this month, and which should lead to national elections in 2009. Those elections could change the future of Sudan, but if the comprehensive peace agreement fails, there will be little hope for peace.

The UN has described the Darfur conflict as the greatest humanitarian crisis in the world, and we have seen the shocking pictures on our televisions. Thousands of people have been killed, raped or wounded; more than 2 million people have been forced from their homes and more than 4 million are dependent on international aid for food and basic needs. As we feared, the conflict has spilled over into Chad. There are 290,000 Darfuri refugees in Chad, and 180,000 Chadians have been forced to flee their homes. The recent fighting in west Darfur and the failed February coup in Chad graphically showed how the stability of the entire region is at risk.

Since the conflict first began, the UK has worked to end the tragedy. We are the second largest bilateral humanitarian donor to Sudan. Since April 2004, we have given £158 million to Darfur for humanitarian aid, and we have supported the implementation of an agreement between the Government of Sudan and the UN to allow full humanitarian access for non-governmental organisations in Darfur.

In addition, we have supported the African Union peacekeeping mission in Darfur by providing £73 million for airlift and equipment. When it became clear that that force was not enough, we secured a UN resolution mandating a new AU-UN peacekeeping force. UNAMID took authority on 31 December 2007. We have just given £4 million to support the training and the equipping of African troop-contributing countries and we are providing military, planning, expertise and staff officers. We have committed £5 million to the Darfur Community Peace and Stability Fund. That allows for recovery and reconciliation when local security permits and when local leaders are committed to a political dialogue.

We in the UK cannot resolve the issue, but we can help the international work and seek to build consensus. We have encouraged China to play a more positive role in Sudan. The Prime Minister raised the matter during his visit to China in January. Recently, China has made more critical comments. We want China to use its considerable influence in Khartoum to play a constructive role and to do more on the comprehensive peace agreement. In February, Ministers from the Department for International Development and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office agreed with the Chinese special envoy for Africa key objectives in Sudan to accelerate UNAMID deployment, re-energise the political process for Darfur and support the implementation of the comprehensive peace agreement. The Foreign Secretary reinforced those messages during his visit to China at the end of February. We have also repeatedly made it clear to China that given its reliance on Sudanese oil it is in its interest for Sudan to be peaceful.

Europe is also more focused on Sudan and Chad. The European peacekeeping force has started to deploy to Chad. We are working with the French Government; the Prime Minister and President Sarkozy agreed last week to step up efforts. We have worked in the Security Council to build consensus and to take tough action if the rebels and the Government of Sudan do not meet their commitments. As hon. Members well know, that has not been enough. Some hon. Members raised the issue of a no-fly zone, but we have real concerns that that would restrict UN and NGO operations and that there would be a real risk of their aircraft being hit and humanitarian aid not getting through. There are clear logistical problems and too few air assets to monitor air activity over Darfur.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Conservative, Buckingham

I have heard what the Minister has just said. Nobody has ever suggested that the establishment of a no-fly zone would be absolutely simple, but the balance of argument previously was always in favour, and the Government themselves seemed to be in favour. I get the distinct sense that that position has now changed.

Photo of Meg Munn Meg Munn Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

We are concerned for the reasons that I have set out. The feasibility work that has been carried out indicates those particular problems. As regards the current situation, I am assured that significant problems exist, and that is what the Prime Minister himself said when he was asked about the matter recently.

We will continue to support the people of Darfur by helping the humanitarian agencies do their work. We will continue to help build an effective peacekeeping force. Although the first troops are now in place, I share hon. Members' frustration with the slow progress. Clearly, the recent fighting has created further problems in relation to that. The force currently comprises 10,500 people, including 7,500 military, 1,800 police and 1,300 civilians. Full deployment will be 19,500 military, 6,500 police and 5,500 civilians. We never expected troops to be fully deployed by the 31 December 2007 when authority was transferred to UNAMID, but we recognise the need for the Government of Sudan to do more to facilitate the deployment.

We welcome the signing of status of forces agreement early in February. That should resolve issues over visas, customs and freedom of movement. We expect to see the Government of Sudan fully co-operating with the AU-UN. Recent progress has taken place on the ground. It may not sound a great deal, but it is incredibly important to the people in the camps. There has been an increase in firewood patrols to enable people to get firewood to cook and an increase in policing. In February, following the fighting in west Darfur, UNAMID escorted NGOs which were providing aid.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour, Stroud

Will the Minister tell us how many of those troops and police will be women? One of the saddest aspects of the events in Darfur is the particular way in which violence against women has been used as a weapon of war.

Photo of Meg Munn Meg Munn Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

My hon. Friend raises a very powerful point. May I discuss that information later, when I respond to the issues that I do not get to today?

Egyptian and Bangladeshi troops should have deployed in March. The Ethiopian and Egyptian infantry battalions will deploy in April and May, followed by Thai and Nepalese battalions. There will be ongoing deployment of infantry battalions throughout 2008. Full deployment is unlikely before the end of 2008. We will continue to press the AU and UN to appoint a single chief mediator for the political process. I cannot stress too highly how important it is to have the process in place because it is the key to peace in the region. The mediator must be someone who is able to help unify the differing rebel factions into an effective negotiating group. We will continue to work for a cessation of hostilities with monitoring mechanisms that allow the international community to take action when and if it is breached. The UN arms embargo needs to encompass all of Sudan to match the EU's embargo. I can reassure hon. Members that we regard the UN arms embargo as important and we will push for it.

The issue of the wider region was raised. The war between north and south Sudan and the rebel uprising in Darfur were caused by marginalisation. The Government in Khartoum failed to meet their people's needs. That was exacerbated by climate change and regional interference. One hon. Member asked what the Darfur rebels wanted. They want a fair share of the oil wealth and power sharing for Darfur. Others want regime change in Khartoum and there are also some general concerns about the rebels.

As regards the Dakar agreement, which my hon. Friend raised, we are supporting the international contact group that has been set up to monitor the agreement and we are calling on both Governments to adhere to the agreement. The international community must make it clearer to the Government of Sudan and the rebels that they have a choice; they can co-operate with the AU and the UN, end the violence, bring those who have committed atrocities to justice and allow humanitarian workers to operate freely and securely or they must face the consequences. We are ready to impose tougher sanctions and we will press the Security Council to join us to take action against them. There will be no impunity for war crimes through the international criminal court.

Last June, during a debate on the situation in Darfur, the then Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend Hilary Benn asked a simple question that we must still ask today.

"When are we going to live up to the fine and inspiring words of the UN declaration of human rights? Let me remind the House of what it says. 'Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people'."—[Hansard, 5 June 2007; Vol. 461, c. 228.]

The people of Darfur have suffered too long and the international community must live up to those words.

D

"That was exacerbated by climate change" It would be quite interesting to be given the evidence for this. I suppose if it is repeated often enough, people start to believe it.

Submitted by Dennis Ambler