It is a real pleasure to be speaking under your chairmanship, Mr Walker, and I welcome you to our debate. I also welcome hon. Members attending the debate, given all the influences of this afternoon. I am extremely grateful that they have come to what is, nevertheless, a very important debate. I declare an interest as the chair of the all-party group of parliamentary friends of CAFOD—Catholic Fund for Overseas Development. I want to place on record my sincere thanks to Mr Speaker and the Backbench Business Committee for granting this important debate on the humanitarian and political situation in Sudan.
As hon. Members present at this debate already know, Sudan has recently voted to separate, in a week-long referendum which began on
In fairness to the Foreign Secretary, his action on Sudan in the run-up to the referendum was clear and constructive. He chaired a special session of the UN Security Council and announced Sudan as a priority for the Foreign Office. That has to be welcomed by all parts of the House. However, success in Sudan is not the final piece in the jigsaw; it is the first piece in a new jigsaw. I am sure that the Government will listen to the arguments put forward today not only by myself, but other hon. Members, and, more importantly, act on them with the urgency that they deserve. The issues are many and require greater detail than I can afford, given the time today. However, I will endeavour to offer an overview of the main causes for concern that the UK could and should act on, and I am sure that other hon. Members present will wish to explore those issues in greater detail.
The fertile and oil-producing border area of Abyei is proving to be a hot-spot of escalating violence and political turmoil. As the Minister will know—I welcome his presence this afternoon—the separate referendum in this part of the region has been stalled. That is because a nomadic tribe, the Misseriya, are now claiming to be residents of that area. Consequently, they are exerting their right to vote in the referendum. That is a serious and intractable problem which is causing civil unrest of grave concern. The UN has also reported that both the armies from the north and south are deploying heavy weapons. What is more, President Bashir has insisted that there can be no decision on the future status of Abyei that excludes the Misseriya. Is that not a clear attempt to influence the outcome of the referendum in favour of the north, which is lacking in the kind of balance that I believe is necessary, and for which I will argue later?
I am sure that the Foreign Office understands those issues. It has previously acknowledged the complexity of the situation that I have described. I note that the Government have also signed a statement, issued by the Troika on
Another major threat to the peace process is posed by the recent reports of divisions between various factions in the south. I do not wish to add to the rumours that I have heard. However, it would be catastrophic for the peace process if those reported conflicts were to escalate on the eve of independence. There is a clear need for diplomatic assistance and our Government have to make sure that they continue to fulfil their role as one of the guarantors of the peace agreement. I accept absolutely that in that role, the Government have to be more even-handed between north and south than I feel I am able to be in this speech today. I echo the words of the Minister, when he said:
“It is important to recognise that we need not just to reduce the risks associated with disasters when they happen, but to have much better co-ordination on identifying and preventing risks before they happen”.—[Hansard, 8 March 2011; Vol. 524, c. 886.]
Will the Minister tell the House what steps he and his colleagues will take to bring those words into fruition and co-ordinate an effective diplomatic mission to resolve the conflict in Abyei, and between the various factions in the south, before it escalates into full-blown civil conflict?
I would now like to draw the Minister’s attention to another outstanding issue—the popular consultations, which were due to be held in the South Kordofan and Blue Nile states. Although the consultation process is under way in the Blue Nile, it has yet to begin in South Kordofan, a clear indicator that the north is not taking those marginalised areas of Sudan as seriously as I believe it should. It is perhaps worth recalling the words of American historian Howard Zinn:
“The memory of oppressed people is one thing that cannot be taken away, and for such people, with such memories, revolt is always an inch below the surface.”
Will the Minister acknowledge the potential dangers if the north continues to ignore the demands of its marginalised states? Will he commit to putting added pressure on President Bashir meaningfully to uphold the promises in the comprehensive peace agreement for popular consultations to meet the expectations of the Sudanese people in South Kordofan and the Blue Nile?
The Minister will also be aware of another matter which affects all three states previously mentioned and which has yet to be resolved—border demarcation. That highly contentious issue directly affects 10 border states and some 13 million people. As always, these matters are complex. Can the Minister say what he and his colleagues are doing to support the important process of border delineation?
Following the independence of the south, the threat from the hardliners in the north is that sharia law will be more strictly applied and that there will be no place for southerners, especially if they fail to convert to Islam. Compare that with the south, where northerners have already been given guarantees that they are welcome to stay and to continue in whatever is their line of business. Does the Minister agree that Khartoum should be encouraged to adopt a similar attitude? What steps is he taking to ensure that the rights of southerners living in the north, and of northerners living in the south, will be respected?
The national debt, which is approximately $40 billion, is a big issue. South Sudan simply does not have the economic wherewithal to service that financial burden. However, north Sudan has offered to take on all of the country’s international debt when the south gains independence in July, requesting that that be in exchange for inclusion in the International Monetary Fund’s heavily indebted poor countries initiative. We are aware that our Government intend to cancel the £1 billion of Sudan’s debt that is owed to the UK, but when will that happen? What are the implications for the budget of the Department for International Development?
The Minister ought also to be aware of the important role of the Churches in mitigating the effects of conflict and in protecting the rights of citizens, despite the continued attempts by Khartoum to restrict their work. Non-governmental organisations such as CAFOD, which has worked in Sudan since the mid-1970s and has provided those essential links to the Church, have proven effective in dealing with the humanitarian and political crises.
There is much anticipation about the Government’s position on the humanitarian emergency response review. I suggest, too, that the Government take on board Lord Ashdown’s point of view, which I share, that
“indigenous and faith-based NGOs are often the first to respond, and understand both culture and context”.
Based on that shared view, will the Minister continue to support the work of the Churches in Sudan? Many NGOs have asked the Government to define the support to be provided. I welcome the Minister’s view on that aspect.
Another major issue is the unfolding humanitarian crisis. More than 190,000 southerners have returned from the north to the south since November 2010. I urge the Government to continue to live up to our responsibility to help the poorest in the world. Currently, the British public are legitimately concerned about cuts, but let that not deter the Government in their resolve to help those who need our attention.
I have covered only a handful of the issues facing Sudan as it approaches a new chapter. I have not even touched on the difficulties of ensuring a fair division of oil revenues or of the terrible threat posed by the Lord’s Resistance Army. Of equally great importance, we should never forget the plight of people in Darfur and the devastating human misery and suffering that the violence has caused. While conflict continues in Darfur, peace across the rest of the country is under constant threat. The international community has still to meet that challenge.
I would now like to conclude my speech with some final recommendations and thoughts, as I look forward to the contribution of other hon. Members. South Sudan is one of the most underdeveloped regions on the African continent. The UK special representative for Sudan, Michael Ryder, has recommended that the Government begin to outline a post-CPA framework. Does the Minister have any plans to do so? If so, what kind of action does he envisage the UK Government taking?
DFID’s wealth creation strategy could play a significant role in helping south Sudan prosper as it develops. As Ministers draw up their plans, I suggest that they take heed of informed contributions such as CAFOD’s “Think Small” report, which outlines the importance of small and medium-sized enterprises, in particular in developing countries where the informal sector is so prevalent.
I take the opportunity to express my support for the principle of country-by-country reporting, which would bring particular benefits to south Sudan. As a new country with significant oil resources, it will be starting from a blank page. Country-by-country reporting is one piece of the jigsaw that could help the people of south Sudan to hold their Government to account and to ensure that wealth is fairly shared. Country-by-country reporting is supported by the Chancellor, who has promised action to take it forward at a European Union level. What will such action look like?
South Sudan has enormous potential as a country, but our support is paramount at this critical time of state formation. So far, the UK Government have played an important supportive role: they must continue to do so. The alternative would be a travesty for the people of Sudan, who are waiting, hoping and praying for the international community to respond, and to respond positively. I called for the debate today because I and many others agree with that plea.
As always, it is a pleasure to follow Mr Clarke who, over the years, has contributed insightfully to debates about international development.
My age is such that when I went to school, quite a lot of the atlas was still coloured pink. The Sudan was interesting because it was hatched pink and green to reflect the condominium of Egypt and the United Kingdom over it in the years immediately prior to its independence. The de jure Sudan was left as an uncomfortable nation, with a north that was basically Arab and Muslim, and a south that was essentially African and Christian. The two have effectively been in conflict pretty much ever since.
The referendum that was held was a considerable step forward, as was the south being able to declare that it would become a separate de jure state. However, as the right hon. Gentleman indicated, a number of crucial issues remain outstanding, the most important of which is the question of Abyei, a part of the country that was to have a separate referendum to decide whether to go to the north or to the south. Where should Abyei be? There have been concerns about the intimidation of the local population. Reports in February and March suggested that as many as 25,000 people had been displaced from the region, with other people moving in, so it is extremely difficult to work out who should be the electorate.
The other crucial issue that has not been resolved is how oil revenues will be shared between the north and the south. I do not know whether anyone has analysed how much of the world’s oil reserves are in countries of conflict or difficulty, but oil is both a blessing and a curse. It is a blessing in that it may provide great income, but it is a curse if the parties concerned cannot agree how the revenues will be shared. Bearing in mind the length of time that the comprehensive peace agreement has been in place and negotiations have been ongoing, it is a matter of real concern that the north and the south have not yet agreed how to distribute oil revenues, particularly as much of the oil is located geographically in what will become de jure south Sudan.
It is important to emphasise that—through no fault of its own—there is lack of capacity in Juba and the south. Some years ago, when the International Development Committee visited south Sudan, it was striking that this area of the world had apparently been abandoned by many for a long time. We met the then transitional Government of south Sudan, which was mixture of two sorts of people. Those who had been army commanders in the bush and fought in the war against the north—they were referred to as commanders—seemed to hold about half the posts in the Government. The other half of the posts seemed to be held by people who had managed to get out of Sudan. Many of them had come to the UK to do something such as reading chemistry at Bradford, and they had since returned and were making a contribution. Civil society and the structure of governance in Juba, however, are unbelievably thin.
I want to make a suggestion to the Minister. Given that the issues concerning Abyei, oil reserves and so on are so critical, I hope, as with the drafting of the constitution and other matters, that Her Majesty’s Government will consider the extent to which it would be possible to help with the process by lending capacity in terms of people and officials, as well as resources, to the south Sudan Government. I never thought that I would suggest sending lawyers somewhere, but this is an instance when there is a requirement for those who are used to drafting treaties, putting things in square brackets, and the whole process of deciding how to negotiate agreements. What has tended to happen is that the leaderships in the north and the south have got together from time to time for a set-piece meeting, usually in Khartoum, but nothing is decided and there is then a long gap. The danger is that the longer the issue continues unresolved, the greater the risk of armed tension, a complete collapse of trust, and friction, with the result that much of what has been achieved will fall apart.
It is right that the people of south Sudan put an enormous amount of trust and hope in the United Kingdom. Perhaps I may share with hon. Members part of a statement entitled “Statement on Behalf of the Episcopal Church of the Sudan to Her Majesty's Government”, which is signed on behalf of the Anglican bishops to Sudan by the archbishop, who is also the bishop of the Juba diocese. It states:
“I would like to take this opportunity to thank Her Majesty's Government for its tremendous commitment to the Sudanese people to date. With millions of pounds in funding through Department for International Development…you have successfully built schools and health facilities; you have fed and treated the most desperate. The Government and the ordinary people of the United Kingdom have advocated and lobbied to the highest level on behalf of” the people of
“the Sudan for which we are very grateful. This has all contributed to the greater effort of many that is slowly improving the lives of Sudanese. We can all accept…that the challenges ahead of us remain great.”
The statement goes on to outline some of the issues that I have identified, but it is clear that the people of south Sudan are looking, apart from to the African Union, to the United Kingdom to help them through the transitional process. They are of course grateful for funds that the Department for International Development may provide for schools and health facilities, but there is also a fundamental issue of how they get through the next few critical months of governance and deal with drafting a constitution, sorting out the remaining issues of the referendum in Abyei and the oil reserves.
I am glad that many colleagues wish to contribute to the debate, so I shall conclude my remarks to allow them to speak. The resolution of the issues in south Sudan and the creation of a new de jure state in Africa make it almost unarguable that Somaliland should be given the opportunity to have a referendum so that it can decide whether it wishes to remain part of de jure Somalia, or whether it is able to become a de jure state in its own right. The whole House will know that Somaliland is on the boundary of what was formerly the British protectorate of Somalia. It has been a de facto country for some 20 years with its capital in Hargeisa. For a considerable period, the people of Somaliland have wanted to be a de jure state. The African Union has argued that it does not want new countries emerging in Africa, but a new country has emerged in south Sudan, so that argument is no longer sustainable as far as Somaliland is concerned. I hope that, where appropriate, we will be able to support the people of Somaliland to obtain the independence that they want so much.
As the right hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill said, these are days of hope for south Sudan, but there are serious obstacles ahead, and if matters in the next few months are not sorted out properly, it will be easy for the whole thing to disintegrate back into mistrust, bloodshed and a serious loss of life.
It is a pleasure to speak under your tutelage and chairmanship today, Mr Walker. As others have done, I congratulate Mr Clarke on securing this important debate. It has come at an interesting time. There are plenty of distractions, both domestic and international, that might focus our attention elsewhere. My hon. Friend Tony Baldry reminds us of our historical links with the country of Sudan, and why we should take a continued interest in what is happening there and in developments as life moves forward.
Sudan is an exceptional country on many counts. It is one of the largest and most geographically diverse countries in Africa, with huge mountain ranges splitting the deserts in the north and the rain forests in the south, and the River Nile splitting the country from east to west. As with many African countries, its borders are a consequence of colonisation, and a product of the deals that settled imperial battles in the 1800s, which created an artificial state where the political differences between the north and the south matched the geographic contrast that I mentioned.
Indeed, from 1924 until its independence in 1956, British policy in Sudan divided the country into two separate territories: the Muslim area in the north, and the Christian area in the south. It is not surprising that, with such a stark cultural, religious, linguistic and economic difference between the north and the south, the country has been beset by conflict. To suggest, however, that we can divide such things and create a polarised view of the country would be misleading. There are over 200 different ethnic groups, each with their traditional beliefs, cultures and histories, and often their own language.
Conflict there has been. The humanitarian crisis has been described by the United Nations as
“one of the worst nightmares in recent history”,
and various leaders from across the country are accused of war crimes, including President Omar al-Bashir. The conflict has lasted for decades and the civil war has cost the lives of millions of people. It has driven millions of others from their homes, straining relations with neighbouring countries and squandering millions of dollars of international aid. The conflict is denying the country economic prosperity and, as has been mentioned, Sudan is a rich country. Oil has been mentioned a number of times, but there are also reserves of gold and cotton. All that is being squandered because the civil war is in the way.
The long overdue referendum was held in January and the country has been primed to split, which should happen in July this year. As the right hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill said, one area, Abyei, has still to determine where it will sit under the new order. There is a comprehensive peace agreement, but that resounding issue is unsolved. There are some spoilers; a number of organisations and tribal influences and so on are trying to prevent the peace process from reaching fruition.
Where does the border go? That is crucial. Any map showing the oil fields will illustrate the difficulties and the problem. Much of the oil straddles the border or is in the south, but the oil refineries and ports from where the oil is distributed are in the north towards the Red sea. The south produces 80% of the country’s oil, but currently receives only 50% of the revenue. The north has recognised the desire of the south to split, but it is no velvet revolution.
The Khartoum Government have a history of using proxy forces to bleed political concessions from the south. The most worrying example of that has already been mentioned and is the Lord’s Resistance Army. That Christian fundamentalist group was formed away from Sudan in 1987, and is today led by Joseph Kony. It has no coherent political strategy; it is a bizarre group that draws on religious fundamentalism and urges brutal guerrilla tactics such as cutting off the noses and hands of victims. It claims its members are possessed by spirits, and Kony advises his recruits to smear oil on their chests as a way to protect them from bullets. Its relations with Khartoum are worrying. In the 1990s, Sudan funded and trained the LRA to fight against Ugandan and Sudanese rebels in the south. In 2005, al-Bashir decided to cut links with the group after signing the comprehensive peace agreement. Nevertheless, there are continued reports of LRA activity, and despite official denial of those links, violence in south Sudan persists.
The LRA is not any small group, and it has caught the attention of the United States, which in December 2008 decided to send in the CIA in Operation Lightning Thunder. It was a botched operation that tried to remove the LRA from north-east Africa, and affected not only Sudan, but the Democratic Republic of the Congo and other countries. The operation had an adverse effect because rather than the group being removed, Kony’s troops dispersed into the land where they remain today. That epitomises the challenge of this contemporary conflict which involves a non-state militia group whose activities do not recognise any borders or laws. The group numbers less than 1,000 people, but it seeks to destroy the good work that has been done in the peace agreement.
President Obama has called for the LRA to disarm through the Northern Uganda Recovery Act 2009, and that strategy has been advanced. The Americans have taken the issue seriously and put it in statute to help the future of Sudan. The four objectives of the Act passed by the United States Congress are to increase the protection of civilians; to remove Kony from the battlefield; to promote defections, disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration of fighters; and to increase humanitarian access and continued relief.
I would be curious to know whether the Minister believes that the work done by Britain ties in with that done by the United States. The official Government line condemns the actions of the LRA and in February, the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend Mr Bellingham, stated:
“We are sparing no effort at all in helping those countries who are on the front line of tackling the LRA, and we are doing all we possibly can to bring its leader to justice in the International Criminal Court as well.”—[Hansard, 1 February 2011; Vol. 522, c. 724.]
I invite the Minister to update the House on what actions Britain is taking, together with the United States, to tackle that group.
Perhaps I may digress and ask the Minister some further questions about funding for Africa. The amount of aid given to Africa every year is about one tenth of the value of the minerals that are exported out of Africa. Much of that money disappears because there is no accountability or transparency to show where that mineral wealth, and the money paid by countries such as China, Britain and others, actually goes. The statistics on the website of the Department for International
Development state that about £150 million is given to Sudan every year. Will the Minister spell out how that money is accounted for and how transparency is provided? When the coalition Government were formed, I was pleased to hear the announcement that there would be more scrutiny of spending, to ensure that money is spent in a correct and accountable way.
It is important to step up our support. More incidents of violence are occurring in south Sudan, which suggests that force is being used to disrupt the moves towards peace. That level of violence takes place far away from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which suggests that organisations such as the LRA are receiving patronage from Khartoum or from outside.
As we ponder the consequences of the Arab spring—an opportunity to change things for the better and to sow the seeds of democracy that comes once a generation—we must look at how we can avoid a repeat of what we saw in Iran. Iran had its own revolution where our influence was perhaps not welcome, and we ended up with a regime with which we have not been able to work.
As we focus on Sudan, we must remind ourselves that this is also a once-in-a-generation opportunity and a chance to make a change and introduce a new country to the world. That requires the support of the international community. This rare opportunity that comes once in a generation must be harnessed. The birth of a new and fragile state such as south Sudan needs international support to sow the seeds of democracy and encourage the genesis of economic growth. Most importantly, we must deny insurgents, bandits and violent opportunists the chance to seize power by force. As my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury said, Britain’s historical involvement means that we owe it to Sudan to do our part. In the past, we had an historic role in carving out a poorly designed state over a century ago. Let us hope that today we can have a positive influence that might lead to longer lasting peace and prosperity for this new country.
I, too, convey my thanks to Mr Clarke for securing this debate. During the previous Parliament, I visited Sudan together with Michael Howard and David Steel, both now in the House of Lords. One of the most moving and emotional things that I saw during the course of the previous Parliament was when I spent two days walking through the camps in Darfur and meeting the refugees. I talked to them and saw their living conditions, heard what they and their families had been through and saw the tremendous fear, poverty and appalling brutality that those people had faced for such a long time. At the time, as we see in Hansard, many speeches were made about our concern for the situation in Darfur, yet we seemed unable to influence the situation, much to the concern of many hon. Members.
While my colleagues and I were in Darfur, we spoke with the African Union soldiers who were trying to bring some form of policing to the area, and they expressed concerns about the Sudanese authorities’ intransigent obstruction of their efforts properly and effectively to supervise things. We took those concerns directly to President Omar al-Bashir when we met him at his presidential palace in Khartoum, and despite all my concerns about what had been happening in Darfur, I was extremely pleased by our meeting. I wish that hon. Members could have seen the conviction and effectiveness with which Michael Howard and David Steel negotiated with President Omar al-Bashir during our meeting. I was extremely pleased that changes were subsequently made, and African Union helicopter flights were allowed at night-time to protect innocent civilians.
On a note of optimism, I am pleased at how the referendum has gone. Given all the problems that the country has suffered over such a long period, it is quite a paradigm shift for it to go through the referendum process. That is something to be encouraged and to be grateful for. I met the Sudanese ambassador before the referendum, and he was sure that the country would split. There was a consensus about that; even before the referendum, everybody realised there was a certain inevitability about the country splitting. Of course, this is an extremely controversial issue, as we have heard from colleagues, and terrible difficulties are involved in any divorce. However, the country has somehow managed to go through the referendum process in a relatively peaceful and stable way, and I very much hope that the Minister will acknowledge the progress that has been made.
When I was in Khartoum, I realised that parts of it are like downtown Beijing because of the tremendous influence of the Chinese. I have never seen so much Chinese lettering anywhere in the world, apart from in China. China is all over the country, with huge investments and a massive influence on the Government. It is a pity that there is so much Chinese influence and so little direct British influence. Many politicians told me that all the products in Sudan were British-made in the ’50s and ’60s; everything was made in Britain and then exported to Sudan. Now, there are hardly any British products in Sudan; all the products are Chinese imports.
The reason I have come here is to ask the Minister to work with British business to help expand trade with Sudan. I understand that DFID is all about international aid and assistance, but there must be some interaction and co-operation with British industry to help British business export to Sudan and send people there to assist in the country’s construction. There should be some form of co-operation and engagement between DFID and British business.
Before the hon. Gentleman moves on from the extremely pertinent question of Chinese influence, which can be seen not only in southern Sudan, but in many other places, will he share with us his view of what lies behind that activity? What is motivating this extraordinarily frenetic expansion, which is originating in China and flourishing in Africa?
If we look at the map of Africa, we see that the greatest Chinese investment is primarily where the oil reserves are. The hon. Gentleman will recognise that the Chinese are keen to invest. There is huge construction of bridges, railways and other infrastructure to extract the minerals and oil that China so desperately needs for its economy.
I have had many meetings with the Sudanese ambassador to the UK at his embassy, and I pay tribute to him, because he is a good and diligent representative of his country. I have taken British businesses to see him, and he keeps telling me, “Sudan is open for business with the UK. We are desperate”—to return to the point made by the hon. Gentleman—“to detach ourselves from our over-dependence on China. We need to change our economy’s relationships to make sure we interact more with countries in Europe and particularly with the UK.” Many Sudanese people see the UK in an extremely positive way, and they have a long-standing friendship and relationship with us.
This is the first time I have heard of the cancellation of the £1 billion debt owed to Britain, which the right hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill highlighted. He asked the Minister to clarify when that debt will be cancelled, and I, too, am very much looking forward to hearing the answer. However, this should not just be a matter of saying, “Oh well, let’s cancel £1 billion of debt,” and we must remember that we are talking about British taxpayers’ money. Our country is heavily indebted, and various facilities are being closed in our constituencies, so £1 billion is a huge amount of taxpayers’ money to think of simply cancelling.
Rather than just cancelling £1 billion of debt, therefore, I suggest that we negotiate with the Sudanese. We should say that we will cancel a proportion of the debt in exchange for their hiring the services of British manufacturing consultancies or companies, which would go to their country to educate their people, set up production and help them set up factories. There must be a quid pro quo interaction between the British Government and Sudan. We should not simply cancel the debt, but cancel some of it and say that we want the Sudanese to use the money to hire the services of British companies.
I hesitate to intervene in such a thoughtful speech, but it is important to register that much of the debt is interest accrued over the years on borrowing that many people at the time considered reckless. Does the hon. Gentleman accept that?
The right hon. Gentleman makes a good point, but whether that borrowing was reckless or not, we all take out mortgages, and we normally all have to pay off the debt. Regrettably, some of my constituents have taken out loans that they cannot afford, and I have tried to help them to somehow negotiate their way through those loans. That is difficult, but a contract has been signed. We should show good will to the Sudanese by cancelling some of the debt, but I do not think the right hon. Gentleman would object to our also encouraging them to use some of the resources that would be freed up when they no longer have to pay us interest to engage the services of British engineering and manufacturing consultants in the development and restructuring of their country.
I do not want to trespass too much on the hon. Gentleman’s generosity of spirit, but, to take up his analogy, nobody would object to paying a mortgage if they got a house out of it. When it comes to debt relief in Africa, however, it is as if the mayor of the town got the house, and the people had to pay the mortgage; that is a much more accurate description. I hope, therefore, that we can unite in praise of the Government, the Minister and DFID for apparently intending to do precisely what my right hon. Friend Mr Clarke suggested by writing the debt off.
I do not want to come across as a Scrooge, and I know how generous the hon. Gentleman is, but a lot of British companies would like to engage and trade with Sudan and do not know how to. DFID has a huge role to play in advertising the opportunities and what is happening in a country, and in ensuring that the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and British commerce and industry are engaged in helping it to create the prosperity that we desperately need. Sudan will be prosperous long term only through trade, not through aid, as I hope the hon. Gentleman will acknowledge. Sudan is able to become a very wealthy country through increased trade with the UK and to not always be over-dependent on aid.
I served briefly on the Select Committee on International Development in the previous Parliament. We visited many countries in Africa, and one of those visits was to a tiny village on the Ethiopian-Kenyan border. The workers from the non-governmental organisation that had been hired were all French speakers and all the machinery—everything—was Chinese or Japanese. I went to the village to meet the village elders, who said to me, “You know, Mr Kawczynski, we’re very grateful to you and the French Government for providing all this wonderful help for our village.” I said, “We’re not French, we’re British”. They replied, “Oh, what’s Britain got to do with it?” So stripped had DFID become of the British brand—deliberately stripped by Clare Short—that, in many circumstances around the world, there was no linkage at all between the UK and British taxpayers and the good work happening on the ground.
That was a deliberate policy by Clare Short following the scandalous Pergau dam incident, which we all recall, but it went too far. I am very proud and satisfied that British taxpayers are helping the poorest around the world. It is something for which we should all be thankful, but we should not flinch from waving the British flag at the same time and showing how important it is to promote the UK. Can the Minister assure me today that he is engaged directly in helping British commerce to work with Sudan to help to ensure its future prosperity?
I congratulate my neighbour, Mr Clarke, on securing the debate. I appreciate this opportunity to discuss Sudan. The debate is particularly timely at this critical point following the referendum and before southern Sudan takes statehood in its own right on
I would like to touch on current events and the concerns that most hon. and right hon. Members share about how things are unfolding, as well as on Darfur and human rights in Sudan more generally. As I said, this is a particularly good time to discuss Sudan, because the referendum on independence for southern Sudan took place in January. Right hon. and hon. Members have discussed the decades of conflict and civil war that destroyed lives entirely needlessly. It was very positive that the referendum could take place and that the result was generally deemed to stand up to scrutiny. The turnout was more than the 60% required and the result had overwhelming support. It was important and right that the UK Government provided support and assistance to enable that process to take place, and it is important that such support continues as southern Sudan takes the steps to becoming a state, and as northern Sudan adjusts to being a smaller country.
Obviously, building a new nation requires significant effort in the creation of new institutions and networks, and the development of civil society. There is a need to ensure that the people are taken along with the process so that, from the start, they hopefully have a Government and state that they trust and have faith in, thus building on the positive result of the referendum and the undoubted enthusiasm that went alongside that. However, there are always dangers, because with such an overwhelming result, expectations can be high. A lot of work will be needed to deliver a stable and successful state that will have strong economic development and growth rates of which we would be envious, although since the financial crisis such rates are obviously far below the double-digit figures that were enjoyed before.
I have read worrying reports about the involvement of civil society, because it is incredibly important that it is well represented and that it has links with the Government. I was concerned to read about the group that has been set up to draft the new constitution to build on the interim one of 2005. It is great that there is a civil society representative, but civil society organisations have petitioned the south Sudanese president about the person appointed as their representative to say that he does not represent civil society, which is a sign that perhaps the joined-up discussions and the involvement of the various players are not proceeding as well as they should. It is important that that should happen so that people can trust the institutions created. After all, getting the constitution right sets the framework for how everything else will follow, so it would be unfortunate if questions remained over it.
The thorny issue of resources has been discussed, and although it was positive that the referendum happened, there will inevitably be really difficult decisions and discussions about how the resources are divided up. The country is rich in oil but, as others have said, that can be a curse. When countries have such natural resources, there is a strong potential for those resources to create conflict. Sudan produces 500,000 barrels of oil a day. Three quarters of that comes from the south, but the pipelines to get it to market are in the north. There are moves to examine whether pipelines could be built in the south, but it will be years before that will be possible. That means that there has to be a resolution to the resource issue, but it is important that that central issue is managed. I do not know whether the Government can assist the dialogue between north and south to try to get a resolution, but the situation has the potential to create conflict.
While we are talking about dividing things up, the other big question is how the debt will be divided. If the international community found a way to reduce or get rid of Sudan’s outstanding international debt, that would be one fewer thing on the new countries’ “difficult to resolve” list.
The violence that we saw after the referendum is concerning. Last week alone, 150 people were killed, and the tally since the beginning of the year is 800 people. Obviously, those numbers could be a lot worse, but they are definitely creating huge cause for concern, as others mentioned, particularly around the flash point of Abyei. In a sense, it is a microcosm of the wider conflict—it is where north meets south; it is rich in oil; and it has all the historical rivalries. I was intrigued about water resources, which can often be a source of conflict, particularly in countries where water is not plentiful and access to it is difficult. The main river has two names. It is the Kiir river to the people from the south, and Bahr al-Arab—river of the Arabs—to those from the north, so they are very much putting down a marker that they feel that it is their river.
That particular flashpoint is a real concern. We still have not had the promised referendum. It has been delayed, and now it looks as though there is no prospect of that happening. Is that option still being pursued, or is any discussion taking place about whether it would be possible to take the border through that region? Will it actually be split? There must ultimately be a resolution of that particular issue.
Before I conclude, I would like to turn to Darfur. That ongoing issue has been high on the international agenda—it has been coming and going in waves—since 2003. However, it has been rather overshadowed in the past year by focus on the referendum and the move towards independence for the south. Some 300,000 people died in the conflict in Darfur, while 2.7 million people were displaced, which is equivalent to half the population of Scotland. However, there has been little progress by the Sudanese Government on implementing the recommendations of the African Union high-level panel on Darfur. A renewed effort is needed to get the talks that are being sponsored by the Qataris working. I hope that the Government will ensure that that is in their mind in their discussions about Sudan.
Turning to human rights, there should be credit where it is due. There has been small progress in some areas. The Child Act 2008 will recognise as children those up to the age of 18. The previous test referred to signs of maturity, and there were appalling atrocities against children. While there has been progress on that point, there has not been in other areas of human rights, such as the death penalty and rights for women. The country refused to sign the convention on the elimination of all forms of violence against women, which speaks volumes. There is also restriction on freedom of the media and speech, and people can be detained or arrested just for being a journalist or human rights defender. There are also religious restrictions, particularly in the north, which is something of increasing concern post-independence. There are differences in law for the Christian minority in terms of property rights, and it is also illegal for a Muslim to convert to Christianity. There have been reports that one of the church schools in the north that had 500 pupils is now down to 60 or 70 due to an exodus of many people migrating south. Those who remain are even more of a minority and discrimination against them is likely to heighten. I hope that we are making strong representations on all those human rights issues, and I know the UK Government are active in doing so. Last but not least, there is the refusal of President al-Bashir to comply with the arrest warrant of the International Criminal Court.
All those important human rights issues do not necessarily relate directly to the independence referendum and the particular changes in the country, but they are, as is the case for human rights abuses in any country, still matters of grave concern for many hon. Members. The Government must continue to make that issue a priority.
The UK can play a positive role in Sudan by providing technical advice and assistance to support southern Sudan in becoming a new state. We have a lot of experience from assisting the journeys of the countries in eastern Europe. Our aid can be used even more effectively if we ensure that, when possible, local labour is used, because that can contribute to the development of the economy. However, we need to be sensitive about aid. There are still real tensions due to the conflict and the different groupings. We need to take into account the dynamics of the conflict when delivering aid. We can also put diplomatic pressure on the Sudanese Government on issues of human rights, and try to prevent further conflict spreading, as well as resolving the issues of resources.
Apparently, southern Sudan is interested in joining the Commonwealth. That idea might have merit, and could be a further incentive for progress to be made on some of the issues we have outlined. It could also promote a supportive network to make it more likely that the state can be successful and stable. I look forward to the rest of the debate and to the Minister’s response.
I welcome the Minister who will reply to the debate and I congratulate Mr Clarke on successfully petitioning the Backbench Business Committee for it to take place. With the events occurring in north Africa, the issue of Sudan has been driven from the news headlines. As it is likely to be the first democratic nation spawned by the world since Kosovo in 2008, and the Government are likely to take office on
I had the pleasure of visiting north and south Sudan at the time of the referendum. What was particularly pleasing was the absolute joy of the people in south Sudan who voted in the referendum. Their smiles and body language showed their delight at being given the opportunity to vote in a referendum that would secure them a new nation. Their aspirations were huge. The challenge that the international community now faces is to move quickly enough to meet those aspirations. Otherwise I think there will be real trouble.
The referendum and subsequent independence arose out of the comprehensive peace agreement of 2005. The conflict, with 2 million deaths, left the south in an undeveloped and blighted state, one of the poorest nations on earth. I could see that the referendum, though not perfect, was fair and well run, considering the conditions under which it operated, and it resulted in 98.83% of the voters backing the proposal. We now have to move quickly to meet the aspirations of those people. However, there are a number of obstacles facing the new Government, which have been mentioned in the debate. The right hon. Gentleman cited one of the biggest: the oil-rich state of Abyei. Abyei was awarded special administrative status in the comprehensive peace agreement. There was supposed to be a referendum on the region but it has not taken place, due to the difficulties and problems stated by the right hon. Gentleman. It is important that the issue is resolved. Only yesterday, President Bashir reiterated claims that the contested oil-rich region of Abyei belonged to the north. He threatened to wage war on the border state of south Kordofan if the newly independent state of south Sudan opted for confrontation there.
According to reports, a senior official from the President’s ruling National Congress party has warned that the north will revoke its recognition of south Sudan’s independence, if the latter claims ownership of Abyei in its constitution. In its draft constitution, south Sudan lays claim to Abyei, and that is due to be adopted after the region officially gains independence on
Others have mentioned the second real difficulty: oil revenues. The majority of Sudan’s wealth, north and south, comes from the oil fields, about 75% of which are sited in the south. The oil then flows through the pipeline to be distilled in the north, where all the distilleries are. It then goes on to be marketed from Port Sudan in the east of the country. Both sides have accepted an oil-sharing agreement over the past five years under which the net oil revenues of the oil produced in the south—I use my words with care—should be shared 50:50. That is where Abyei comes in; if it was to be sited in the north, the south would get none of the oil revenue. It is important that that agreement continues.
Nobody challenged this figure, but it is one of the most important facts that I gained from my visit: up to $12 billion is estimated to have been siphoned off from money that the north has given to the south over the last five years. Did that go on what is ostensibly one of the best-paid and best equipped armies in Africa, or has it merely disappeared? One of the biggest challenges faced by the international community in trying to set up a new nation in the south is the corruption. Aid assistance schemes for dealing with poverty throughout the world are normally short of funds, but potentially there is no shortage of funds here.
The third big obstacle is that of citizenship. I thought that the right hon. Gentleman might have concentrated a little more on it, but I realise that he could not deal with everything and I do not criticise him. There is a problem with southerners living in the north not being granted citizenship of either north or south. Indeed, will southerners be welcome to continue living in the north? I understand the north’s problem: if it gives the southerners citizenship, they will be able to participate in the political process in the north. The solution would appear to be to allow the southerners to continue living in the north in normal peaceful conditions but to grant them southern citizenship. There is a smaller but nevertheless significant problem the opposite way round. Northerners living in the south already have northern citizenship. These problems need to be resolved, but time is not on our side.
My hon. Friend Tony Baldry made perhaps the most important point. That is the capacity of the new Government to operate. If there are not sufficient skilled people—this is exactly what we are finding in Afghanistan—it will be extremely difficult to get a sustainable and stable Government up and running. When I was in the south, that was cited as a real concern. There are enough people in the north who could help, and the international community will need to put in a great deal of training and infrastructure in that respect.
Others have said that the UK is particularly well respected in both the north and the south. That was one of the things that surprised me most. In a sense, I expected it in the south because of the comprehensive peace agreement, but I did not necessarily expect it in the north, particularly as the President is currently indicted for war crimes. Nevertheless, we should use that respect. After all, we are one of the three signatory nations to the comprehensive peace agreement, we are a permanent member of the Security Council and we are the ex-colonial power. We are therefore beholden—this is why today’s debate is so important—to provide every possible assistance, together with the United Nations, and do our utmost to ensure the success of the new nation of the south.
We need to address the future of the United Nations Mission in Sudan—UNMIS—which is due to end with the implementation of the comprehensive peace agreement. However, as I shall demonstrate to the House shortly, the security situation in the south cannot be taken for granted. We need to see some form of extension of UNMIS; we may need another name, but we need an international peace force in southern Sudan. The country will not suddenly become stable in July.
I was disturbed to hear that 55 people were killed in clashes last Saturday between the Sudan People’s Liberation Army—the SPLA—and a number of rebel militiamen. The southern Government are already battling with about seven different militia groups. As Jo Swinson said, 800 people have been killed and the UN estimates that 94,000 people have been forced from their homes since January. It is clear that the south remains a fragile state, and international support is critical in order to avert further conflict and humanitarian disaster.
As if that problem were not enough, as others have said there is the problem of the Lord’s Resistance Army. The LRA is particularly mobile. It is like a snake; if bits are cut off, it regenerates. Although it is only 200 or 400 strong at the moment, it operates almost freely between the Democratic Republic of the Congo, south Sudan, Chad and the Central African Republic. It has been considerably reduced in size since Kony, its leader, was indicted for war crimes, but it nevertheless has the ability to regenerate quickly. That transnational problem makes it important for the international community to provide help. Helicopters are needed, particularly to provide intelligence of the LRA’s activities.
Another source of conflict, which has already been mentioned, is the problem of Darfur. A referendum is about to be held on whether it should be run as two separate states—north and south—or one. I was advised by the Foreign Office not to meet the President, because he is indicted for war crimes, but I met the Vice-President and the President’s key adviser. They are most sensitive about Darfur, and are somewhat bitter that they are to lose a big chunk of the country. They are sensitive about it and do not want to cede further control. Darfur is particularly tricky in another respect, in that some of the southern militias are meddling in Darfur, as we heard earlier, and the north will blame the south for not keeping them under control. That has the potential to become a real problem.
When I visited the north, I met several key people. I was heartened to see that the north recognises that it is very much in its interest that the south succeeds as a nation. With a little international encouragement, the north will provide considerable help to get the new south nation on its feet.
Time is short, but I have a little shopping list. The United Nations needs to co-ordinate a plan to get the new nation off the ground. I have already mentioned the first and most important matter that needs to be dealt with—that of corruption. It must be eliminated. The oil revenue that the south will receive must go towards forming a new democratic nation for the benefit of those who live there. Despite the £12 billion—I repeat that it was £12 billion; I cannot repeat it enough—that has been given to the south over the last five years, there are only 20 km of metalled road, virtually no running water, no electricity, few hospitals and not enough schools. The infrastructure needs to be dealt with, and I believe that the international community can help, and as my hon. Friend Daniel Kawczynski said, there is no reason why British construction companies should not be well and truly involved.
I asked the ordinary people of Sudan, “What is it that you want most?” This may be a lesson for the Department for International Development around the world, because it does not always concentrate enough on it; we can do without almost everything, but we cannot do without food and water. Most of the food that feeds the poor people in the south, which is one of the poorest nations on earth, comes from the north. The people of the south will have to wean themselves off that, and there is no reason, given that they live beside one of the biggest rivers in the world, why they should not grow a considerable amount of their own food. However, that requires investment and know-how.
I have listed corruption and food and I previously mentioned the problems of infrastructure. The fourth matter is education. It is a major problem in many underdeveloped countries. My trip to Sudan included visits to some of the referendum points, most of which were in schools. Although the schools were empty, most of them looked well maintained. They were in Juba, the capital. I was told that the levels of attainment were not great. Although the schools that we had seen were in Juba, there was a paucity of schools in rural areas.
I hesitate to interrupt a powerful and authoritative speech. My hon. Friend speaks of education, and we would all agree on its importance. Last year, under the previous Government, DFID provided about £150 million, but only 4% of that went to education. Will my hon. Friend join me in seeking to have that figure increased?
Education is particularly important. Without it, one would find it difficult to get out of the present situation. We have not heard much about gender equality in today’s debate, but education is particularly important for women because they are often the ones who not only do most of the work in these developing countries but are denied their rights the most. Like my hon. Friend, I am keen to ensure that DFID pays great attention to education.
Let me divert for one sentence, Mr Walker. I have stuck to the script so far, but I would like to provide an example. Pratham, a charity in India, has got 20 million boys and girls into education, and that is one of the greatest things that any non-governmental organisation on earth can do.
As the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire mentioned, the fifth area that needs assistance, training and expertise is the security and judiciary services. The security services must be educated to understand that they are now operating under a democratic regime, which requires proper scrutiny and accountability. On the judicial side, it is important that proper police courts and prisons are set up so that the rule of law can be maintained and we do not let the southern state revert to a lawless, squabbling load of tribes.
Finally, the other issue that needs addressing is health. Even in Juba, there are virtually no hospitals. If the health system is virtually non-existent in the capital, there must be no trace of it in the rural areas. In a poor country such as this, the health indices are inevitably very low. This is an area in which the international community could rapidly produce some sort of rudimentary health delivery system and start to meet the aspirations of the people.
We need to get the whole issue of democracy up and running. At the moment, 94% of the MPs come from the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement and the other 4% come from a breakaway part of the SPLM. We must educate those MPs to understand the need for opposition parties. I sometimes wish that we did not need opposition parties here. Nevertheless, we cannot have a proper democracy without opposition parties. The essential job of the Opposition is to hold the Government to account.
I am not sure whether or not that was a backhanded punch. I suspect that it was a punch from the blind side.
The international community faces a really important challenge. If it meets it, it could make a significant difference. As my hon. Friend Mr Ellwood said, Sudan has historically been a war-torn country. If we were able to bring about a peaceful democratic future and, at the same time, put in the infrastructure and lift the levels of poverty in this poorest of countries, it would be a huge prize for which the international community could take great credit.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship today, Mr Walker. I, too, congratulate Mr Clarke on securing this very important debate.
Unlike many hon. Members taking part in the debate, l have not yet visited Sudan. My interest in the country is driven by a wonderful community of Sudanese people in Hove and Portslade in my constituency, who have alerted me to some of the terrific attributes of their homeland. I appreciate that to have a fully informed opinion, one needs to visit the country, and I am pleased to report that I hope to be visiting Sudan next month by kind invitation of His Excellency the Sudanese ambassador to London.
Hove and Portslade have a thriving Sudanese community that is well integrated in the local area. Encompassing a broad range of positions in the city, the Sudanese contribute doctors, lawyers and business men, among many other professions. One member of the community, Gamal Khalil, recently received the first class medal of perfection from the President of Sudan for his charity work in both England and Sudan.
I have regular contact with representatives from the community and we are currently discussing plans for a free school to be set up in conjunction with the popular Coptic Christian Church. The move has wide support and would provide an excellent facility, as well as much needed spaces for young children in the area.
I highlight this local connection because it is important not always to talk in isolation of Sudan, but to remember that there is a worldwide community as well, with connections in Africa. It is important, therefore, that a change in position by the Government is considered as a matter of urgency.
However, it is the on-the-ground situation in Sudan on which this debate rightly concentrates, and today I would like to highlight some positive aspects. Many speakers have focused on the challenges facing Sudan. There are many challenges, but people from my local community have said that the negative position is perhaps over-emphasised. In a recent discussion in a Committee room in this House, one said that he did not recognise what was being said about Sudan.
With regard to the situation in Sudan, the comprehensive peace agreement, signed in 2005, ended a civil war in southern Sudan which began in 1955. Although I am not an expert in this area, the signing of the CPA appeared to be an unprecedented event, and an achievement not just of the Government of Sudan, but of Sudan’s coalition Government, who brought together the ruling National Congress party, as well as the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement of southern Sudan and several other parties.
The CPA was an unambiguous commitment to peace and it may well serve as a blueprint for ending the conflict in western Sudan. It also paved the way for the autonomy that led to the referendum on secession of the south.
As we are all aware, an internationally monitored referendum was held in January, which resulted in an overwhelming vote for the independence of southern Sudan. With the formal declaration to be made on
Having been geographically split, Sudan, once the largest country in Africa, has embarked upon a programme of transition and redevelopment, which must be embraced. Representatives from my local community reiterate to me that what we see in Sudan are the hallmarks of a developing free society. For example, women’s rights are enshrined in their constitution, with a guaranteed 25% participation in all national and state assemblies. By contrast, it is interesting to note that only 21% of the British Parliament is made up of women. It is encouraging that women in Sudan assume many positions at ministerial, judicial and executive levels and that should be applauded.
President al-Bashir has welcomed the decision of southern Sudan to separate. The President has said that the two countries should live separately as good friends, rather than as adversaries within the same country. It is testament to the largely positive spirit behind the referendum that the international observers were able to report on a smooth and calm process across the country. That positive report should not be underestimated as it demonstrates a real commitment to progression. That said, the future holds financial uncertainty and a crippling debt that both countries will have to address. Nevertheless, progress is being made. On my tour, I hope to gain a greater understanding of this wonderful and dynamic country.
I understand from discussions with business men in the local community that some of the greatest stumbling blocks facing the economic rejuvenation of Sudan are the indirect sanctions currently in place. For example, as a result of US-imposed banking restrictions, it is extremely difficult for Sudanese business men to set up bank accounts in the UK, especially as much of the trade is transacted in US dollars. If we are serious about helping both Sudan and south Sudan to develop and prosper, we must allow them to trade freely with the rest of the world. Being part of the international banking community is an essential step to helping local Sudanese people to gain employment in companies locally. That move will help to reduce poverty and many of the other problems that have been highlighted in today’s debate. I would very much like the Minister to comment specifically on what talks he will be having with US officials to free up restrictions on trade, and any timetable for that process.
With regard to natural resources, Sudan is blessed with a bounty of raw materials, including sugar but, of course, most notably oil. Utilising the natural resources available and a dedicated work force, Sudan has a burgeoning manufacturing industry, which includes a number of new car assembly plants. Investment is paramount for the success of these new industries and it would be encouraging to see incentives being offered to bolster trade relations and internal growth.
I am aware that our Government have set out priorities, listed as delivering health and education services, focusing on long-term development, reducing hunger and extreme poverty, and responding to sudden humanitarian crises. I am also aware that we will spend £140 million a year in Sudan until 2015, of which £90 million a year will go to south Sudan. It is the long-term development aspect that I would like further detail on, including information on whether that aid includes private company set-up support.
The summary of the Associate Parliamentary Group for Sudan visit to Sudan earlier this year noted that
“encouraging investment and growing the private sector will be a priority, with a focus on agriculture, power generation, infrastructure, and the creation of employment opportunities.”
Again, I would be extremely grateful if the Minister said what specific plans the Government have to encourage British investment in both Sudan and south Sudan, and whether different policies are being considered for each country.
Without doubt, some of the biggest investment and growth in Sudan will be in agriculture. I understand that that will be especially true in the south and east. At the moment, spare parts that are required for agricultural machinery need to be sourced from Nairobi in neighbouring Kenya and from even further afield. Manufacturing spare parts locally is just one small step that would assist development. Given the importance of agriculture, it is no surprise that many in Sudan are big fans of Massey Ferguson tractors, for example. I have no idea how practical it would be for there to be a local manufacturing base for that particular company in Sudan, but it would be interesting to know if the Government are considering offering incentives, for example export guarantees or direct aid, for companies such as Massey Ferguson to set up in Sudan and south Sudan.
I am fortunate to have a good working relationship with the Sudanese embassy in London, including the ambassador, and, as I have mentioned, with the Sudanese community in Hove and Portslade. I hope to facilitate the development of this dynamic rapport for the benefit of Britain, Sudan and south Sudan and I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response to the questions that have been put today.
It is a pleasure to follow Mike Weatherley. I want to tell him that in Uganda, which is just to the south of Sudan, the Madhvani family have now built their fifth tractor factory. As the hon. Gentleman will know, that family were expelled from Uganda back in 1973, and they are now looking to build a tractor factory further to the north.
It was a pleasure to hear from the hon. Gentleman. I think that we heard today the first trumpet call for the twinning of Portslade with Juba. Bearing in mind the traditional tensions that exist between east and west in
Hove and Brighton, perhaps there is an appropriate linkage to which he can bring his expertise to bear. It is good for us to hear about the contribution that the Sudanese community makes in our country.
It was a genuine pleasure—I mean that sincerely—to sit at the feet of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown and hear, as ever, his master class. He may be biologically related to a former Speaker of the House, but he seems to have within him the blood of Herodotus, although I must say that even Herodotus might have cavilled at the idea of the self-regenerating serpent. I believe that earthworms have that ability and that on occasion, if they are in a good mood, slow-worms can manage it, but the sinuous, slippery serpent is a creature that I have never yet observed regenerating itself—but who knows? I must say that if anyone can enlighten us, it is the hon. Gentleman. I recall his contribution during a speech made by the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs,
Jo Swinson has given us yet another expression to go away and cogitate on: the “difficult to resolve” list. Many a night we must sit at home and think about the ever-extending, ever-longer “difficult to resolve” list. In the context of this afternoon’s debate, what is particularly difficult to resolve—it has been referred to by virtually all speakers—is the issue of the generation of oil in the south of Sudan, its transmission to Port Sudan and its onward transmission. What the hon. Lady did not say, albeit probably out of generosity and kindness, is that there is a fair degree of empirical evidence that not all the value of that oil is reaching those from whose wells the oil is produced.
That is why the role of NGOs is important, and particularly CAFOD, which works so well and strongly in the region. What we must have in Sudan is not only people from northern Europe saying, “This is how you should do it; this is how we would do it; and this is how we suggest you should do it,” but people on the ground in villages in those parts of the country that are not normally visited. They must not only give the example of good governance, but witness, observe and report back, and reveal the reality of what is going on in those areas. That is absolutely crucial.
There is a fledgling nation—a new nation—as we have been told. We all wish that new nation Godspeed, but a new nation needs help. A baby cannot live by itself for quite a few years. It needs to be supported and helped, so we have to give our support.
Daniel Kawczynski delighted us all with a marvellous image of him meeting a group of senior southern Sudanese and trying to persuade them that he represented the British Government. It is hardly surprising that they thought he was French. For a moment, I wondered whether they suspected, “Is this the Polish mission?” Nevertheless, the fact that he has gone to the region so many times is very much to his credit.
Having said that, the hon. Gentleman’s words about Clare Short, the former Secretary of State for International Development, should not pass without comment. She made a specific point of saying that the Department for International Development was not an example of trade following the flag. She said that the Department was not something that existed to act as a stimulus for British trade, and that it was not a sort of export credits guarantee scheme, nor a trade investment body. She said that it was specifically supposed to be a “clean hands” organisation. Many times I went to see her in her office at DFID and she always used the same expression: “My people were the colonised, not the colonisers”. When I used to beg her to do a bit more about tea planting in Sri Lanka and northern India, she said, “No, what we want to do is to help people, in many cases without them even knowing that we are helping them.” That may be a tad naive in terms of realpolitik, but we can imagine what she was trying to do. The alternative is the Chinese approach, when everyone knows that the action being taken is not philanthropy, generosity of spirit or a case of somebody waking up in Beijing and saying, “Let us extend the glorious hegemony of Chinese industrial growth to those who need it the most.” We all know—the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham certainly knows—that there is rather more to it than that.
We do not get much good news in the world. It does seem to be that all around us the gloom gathers, but there is some good news in southern Sudan.
Before we move off that point about aid, when DFID promotes a project, and particularly an infrastructure project, it is right that it should promote the fact that the project is British. When I have been around the world, I have seen the wretched European Union signs showing that EU aid has been given, and in little tiny letters it says “and DFID”—the words are so small that they can hardly be read. Everybody then thinks that the project is an EU project and nobody has any idea that it is a British DFID project. We should proclaim our generosity around the world. That is not a political point; I just think that we should do that.
That would be rather a good subject for another debate. I rather delight to see in Donegal signs saying that a road was built by the European Union. That is absolutely wonderful. It cheers me up no end, both as a passionate pro-European and as someone with a large number of relatives in Donegal.
I would have thought that what we are doing in this country is not a rerunning of the role of the Royal Navy in the 19th century. This process is not about a direct linkage between the wealth of this nation and future trading opportunities. By all means, badge those projects that we support, as we already do, particularly in India and in the largest recipient of DFID aid, which is a country right next to southern Sudan. We already badge those projects, but let that not be all there is to it. Let us try to bring a little Christian generosity and say that it is more important that we give the gift than sign the card.
Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that more of the products that DFID sends abroad—water sanitation items and other things to help people—should be British, even if they are slightly more expensive than the alternatives? DFID should source more British products than it currently does.
My experience of DFID projects—admittedly, more in central and south America than in Africa—is that the single most important issue is sustainability, not where a product comes from. Many hydraulic kits for wells that have been provided from this country, with the best will in the world, simply do not last because they cannot be repaired and maintained because the parts cannot be sourced locally. That is the tragedy. Of course, if there is a hydraulic water raising factory in the hon. Gentleman’s Shrewsbury and Atcham constituency—there might well be, and if there is not, I am sure that there will be in a couple of weeks—let it cover the globe with its marvellous equipment, but let us also train local people to provide engineering resources so that the equipment can be maintained. We used to say that when the donkeys stop nodding in the oil fields, it takes a great deal to get them nodding again.
I do not wish to test the line that you have just given, Mr Walker, but we are also talking about what aid or support Britain can give, and the style of that support is important and has been mentioned at least a couple of times. DFID has had a policy of doing things on the quiet. Stephen Pound makes the significant point that it is important to get the aid there in the first place, but I encourage the Minister to give us an update on where we stand on promoting the fact that Britain is helping so that not only the locals, but the domestic audience, can see where the money is going. We need to enhance our reputation with countries so that we receive the benefits of further deals in industry and commerce that will come about as a result of the stronger relationships we have due to the appreciation that the help is British.
I entirely take on board your strictures, Mr Walker.
One difficulty is that Britain has not had entirely clean hands over a long timeline. Britain is inextricably linked with the past, and it is a great tragedy that the shadow of the past lies over us. Many would say that that is all the more reason to take such action, but let us never forget that the great poet of empire coined an expression that became part of the common currency when he said:
“ere’s to you, Fuzzy-Wuzzy, at your ‘ome in the Soudan;
You’re a pore benighted ‘eathen but a first-class fightin’ man”.
That typified people’s attitude to what was then Sudan and Egypt, which was going to be not just the biggest country in Africa, but by far the biggest.
I am acutely aware, Mr Walker, that we are here to talk about a specific subject, so I shall return to what we can do in Sudan.
On the aid that we might give to Sudan, it is worth noting in passing that the United States Agency for International Development, which is the largest aid agency in the world, is much more clever than DFID at making sure that its contracts go to US businesses.
Like many hon. Members, I have seen great sacks of grain and bales of bottled water being delivered to places, covered in stars and stripes. I support the emotion that drives that, but I am slightly worried about badging to such an extent. By and large, this should be about global humanity rather than national self-interest. If that is absurdly naive, so is CAFOD, which is probably one reason why my right hon. Friend Mr Clarke and I have such sympathy with and respect for its work.
One problem that we currently face is the Lord’s Resistance Army. It is an issue that simply cannot go away. As we know, it is not just a southern Sudanese issue; it affects also the Central African Republic and the DRC. It is a completely out-of-control, non-hierarchical militia, in many cases staffed by forced soldiers—often child conscripts—that commits the foulest and most appalling crimes. There has to be a way to do the two things that are necessary. The first is to stop the supply of child soldiers—those brutalised conscripted children—into this appalling group. I am not sure what to call it—we cannot use the word “army”—but it is almost a heavily armed mob. The second thing is to divert the energy from that force and to persuade people that there is sufficient safety in their home areas for them to return, and that they do not always have to sleep with an AK47 under their pillow. That will be incredibly difficult.
I have mentioned CAFOD, and I do not want to embarrass my friends there too much. However, in the western equatorial state, about 100,000 people are displaced—just imagine that number of people, in a country the size of Britain. It is a vast number, and the CAFOD people are doing an immensely good job, certainly in the diocese of Tombura Yambio, where most of them are working. We must support that work.
Although there is an interesting debate about the honesty of individual nations when it comes to assisting, advising, helping and supporting, I think that we would all agree that even the noblest nation sometimes does not have the same reputation as some of the best NGOs. When I see what the NGOs have achieved on the global scale, I often feel that their work is more sustainable and more widely respected. I profoundly hope that we can continue the beyond-symbiotic relationship that exists between DFID and the various NGOs—CAFOD, Caritas Internationalis, Christian Aid and many others—because that seems to be the way forward.
Above all, we have a new nation taking the first step of its life, blinking in the sunlight. In a couple of months, this new nation will take its first tottering steps and, if it appears to be falling, we will have to be there to offer a hand, to offer support, to offer succour, and to offer refreshment, advice and assistance. Whether that is through DFID or CAFOD, I know not, but I profoundly hope that it comes from the heart.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Walker. I, like other colleagues on both sides of the Chamber, congratulate my right hon. Friend Mr Clarke on not only persuading the Backbench Business Committee to allocate time to this debate this afternoon but on his excellent opening remarks, which set a tone for what has been a very good debate. Members have covered a wide range of areas, either by chance or design, perhaps ensuring that no issue was overlooked. It will not be for me to comment in detail on those speeches; no doubt the Minister will do so when he replies.
I wish to make brief reference, however, to two points. The first is the branding of UK aid, which I will not go into, Mr Walker, except to say that Members should be aware that the policy changed towards the end of the last Government, and the second is an important point about some of the comments that were made about sanctions and their role in Sudan. Let us not forget that sanctions were one of the forces that led to the comprehensive peace agreement, and to some action on Darfur as well, so before Members rush to try to lift sanctions, let us bear in mind the reason behind them. I am sure that the Minister will want to make the Government’s position clear in his closing speech, because there will be people outside this Chamber who are interested in the Government’s view and in whether the points made by some of the Minister’s hon. Friends, which were, I am sure, well intended, reflect that position—I suspect that they might not fully do so. That is obviously for the Minister to address in due course.
This has been a good debate, and it has rightly highlighted how the UK has made a significant commitment to Sudan, both under the present Government—I pay tribute to the work of the Secretary of State—and under the previous Government and the work of my right hon. Friend Mr Alexander in DFID at that time. With the creation of the new state of southern Sudan on
On the general issue of DFID policy on southern Sudan, the bilateral aid review makes this point:
“Decades of war have left Sudan with a legacy of chronic poverty, inequality, and continuing insecurity…Ensuring the stability of both” parts of Sudan
“and reducing extreme poverty will be the main aims of our programmes.”
That is as it should be.
It is worth emphasising that alongside the continuing humanitarian challenges to be met in the south are longer-term development goals. Currently, non-governmental organisations provide 85% of basic services in southern Sudan—services that in most parts of the world we would expect the Government to provide. Capacity building will be essential to enable a transition to provision by central and local government. It will be particularly important at a more local level.
For that reason, however, in the short and medium term, NGOs will probably have to continue providing basic services and conducting much of the work of building long-term capacity. It is therefore crucial that future UK aid funding should be timely and predictable enough to allow NGOs to plan their programmes and support for basic services in years to come. I will be interested to hear the Minister’s comments on what continuity and certainty our NGOs and the NGOs that we support can be given for their work to provide basic services in southern Sudan.
I turn to the key wider issues facing southern Sudan that have been mentioned. On the security and protection of civilians, there has been an upsurge in violence since the referendum. So far this year, almost 800 civilians have died and more than 80,000 people have been displaced. The violence comes from many sources: from the Lord’s Resistance Army, as has been mentioned; from clashes between what are described as rebel militias and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army; and from other, more disorganised sources. Tackling that violence and supporting the Government of southern Sudan in doing so should be a priority for the international community and the UK as a leading partner of southern Sudan.
Another key issue, which was mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill, is that it is important to support the political forces, society and Government of southern Sudan to enshrine democracy and political plurality there. Since the referendum, some opposition groups have complained about a lack of political pluralism and inequalities in the power exercised by various groups within the country. Concerns have also been raised about the fact that although there were meant to be two phases to the drafting of the new constitution—a technical phase and a consultative phase—the second phase might be something of a fait accompli, which could lead to a monopoly of power by the current Government party.
We welcome the peaceful way that the referendum took place, but as I am sure all Members recognise, democracy and good governance do not end with a referendum. It is important that we continue to support the Government of south Sudan to ensure that all political and social groups in the south have a fair chance to take part in the political process and that the situation does not drift to one in which one party or movement acquires a grip on power not based on its degree of popular support.
On returnees and the sharing of land, since late last year alone, more than 200,000 refugees have returned from southern Sudan. So far, they have mainly come during the dry season, but there are concerns about more coming during the wet season, which is now starting. We must not forget that it is estimated that as many as 1 million people or more might wish to return to southern Sudan, depending partly on the political situation elsewhere in Sudan and the rights given to southerners in the rest of Sudan, from which the south has seceded. I understand that most refugees want to go to rural areas, which raises issues about the sharing of land. However, returnees often get stuck in urban transit camps, and there are fears for conditions in the wet season. I am interested to know what the Government can do during the next few months to assist those who find themselves in that situation.
Another important range of issues relates to the border between northern and southern Sudan. That has been covered at length in this debate by colleagues, so I will not go into any great detail, but I will say simply that the border issues underline the importance of the UN mission in Sudan. The Opposition urge the British Government to use all the levers at their disposal to push for the United Nations Mission in Sudan mandate to be extended beyond
The mission will have a particularly important role in border areas, but its mandate should also give high priority to the protection of civilians—particularly women, who face specific threats—and those delivering humanitarian assistance, such as the staff of NGOs. Civilians need to be protected country-wide in southern Sudan—obviously, with the co-operation of local government authorities—as well as in border areas.
Darfur was mentioned, and several Members have rightly emphasised the need not to take our eye off the tragic situation there, where a peace deal remains elusive. As with UNMIS, we believe that the British Government should strongly support the strengthening of the United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur, or UNAMID, when it comes up for renewal in July. Like other Members who have spoken, we are concerned about plans to hold the referendum on the future of Darfur during a conflict, making it difficult for many to take part, which will no doubt make it easier for the Sudan Government to get their preferred result in Darfur. The continuing peace process in Darfur must not be put on the back burner while we concentrate—understandably—on issues in southern Sudan.
I have a couple of comments generally on areas of the remaining state of Sudan, as one might describe it. There are concerns about how southern Sudan nationals will be treated in Sudan after independence. Sensible suggestions have been made about how southern Sudanese resident in the rest of Sudan should be treated after independence. A problem has also arisen more recently due to a substantial influx of refugees from Libya, primarily into northern Sudan, although that influx and its duration will presumably depend heavily on the speed and nature of developments in Libya.
In conclusion, to restate what we believe should be the UK policy priorities in relation to Sudan, first, support at UN level to both Sudan and southern Sudan must be continuous—I am sure that the Government will do this, but I make the point—for resolution of outstanding disputes on the southern Sudan-Sudan border and in Darfur. Secondly, we should support strengthened and continued mandates for the UN missions in southern Sudan and Darfur. Support needs to be provided for the new Government in southern Sudan, but it should be critical support. If we have concerns or questions about the actions of the southern Sudan Government, we should be prepared to raise them. It is also important that the right working environment for NGOs is maintained in both north and south. NGOs particularly need access to areas such as parts of Darfur that have been restricted in the past.
Some Conservative Members mentioned agriculture. It is certainly important, but it is also important to emphasise that we must find ways to support the many millions who depend on subsistence agriculture. We should not support only outside investment, important as that can be in certain circumstances; we must also focus on helping those in southern Sudan who depend on subsistence agriculture to improve their ability to feed themselves and their families and supply their local markets. So far, we have not seen much sign of how DFID perceives its role in that area. I would be interested to hear some indication from the Minister of what support he can give agriculture, particularly in southern Sudan.
People around the world were moved by the pictures of hundreds of thousands of people in southern Sudan queuing to vote in January’s referendum on independence. The pictures were a contrast to the often sad history of southern Sudan—a history often, of course, forced on its people by outsiders—as well as to the conflicts based on ethnic and religious differences that we have seen elsewhere, not just in Africa but around the world.
On independence, it is true that southern Sudan will be one of the world’s poorest countries, but it has some rich resources and a people who showed in a referendum a unity of purpose that many countries would envy. The continued support of the international community is essential to allow that potential to be grasped, through diplomacy, to find solutions to unresolved problems, such as border demarcation, and to get aid to develop the basic infrastructure of government to meet the needs of its citizens. We welcome the support that the UK Government continue to show to the people of southern Sudan in particular, and I look forward to hearing from the Minister how that support will continue to be provided in the months and years to come.
I am delighted to have the opportunity to respond to this extraordinarily authoritative and informative debate. I congratulate all Members who have taken part in a debate that will, I hope, allow those who read the proceedings to benefit and learn from it, too. It is a timely and important debate, given the scale of the challenge faced by the peoples of Sudan today and of north and south Sudan tomorrow. There are many opportunities for the UK, one of the many nations that can contribute to the future, to help to bring about the best benefits.
I begin in complete sincerity by thanking Mr Clarke for doing whatever was necessary to persuade the Backbench Business Committee to nominate this topic for debate, and for his interesting, thought-provoking and, above all, comprehensive introduction. It gave us the hooks on which the rest of the debate has been able to hang. He did that very ably and I am pleased to acknowledge expressly the inspiration that he has derived from his leadership of the Parliamentary Friends of CAFOD and the advantage that he has taken of the knowledge with which it has supplied him. I hope that I will be able to do justice to what has been a comprehensive debate. Many points have been raised and I will seek to address as many as I possibly can. I will attempt to address any points that I cannot address today either through further meetings with the Associate Parliamentary Group for Sudan or by letter.
It is important to recognise that, as the British Parliament, we have taken and continue to take an extremely close interest in both the interests and the future of the peoples of Sudan, which will become two separate countries—north and south Sudan—from
The UK has four key Government objectives for the people of Sudan and their constitutional manifestation. First, we are working towards a peaceful conclusion to the comprehensive peace agreement, including the transition to two countries in July. Secondly, we are committed to an inclusive peace with justice in Darfur. We have focused on many other aspects of Sudan recently, but it is vital that we do not lose sight of the paramount importance of our concerns about Darfur, because they continue to this day. Thirdly, we are working to ensure national and regional stability for Sudan. Fourthly, we will support the development of democratic and accountable Governments, delivering a more equitable distribution of Sudan’s resources—a point that has been touched on ably today—in the hope and, I would say, expectation of an improvement in the human rights situation in Sudan. Although that is not an explicit linkage, it is certainly something whereby, by working hard to get one aspect right, we would expect to have influence on the other and to see it develop.
In the context of the overall promise—which the coalition Government have been able to confirm and maintain, and which has been welcomed and supported broadly throughout the House—to spend 0.7% of gross national income on official development assistance by 2013 and to ring-fence that money, the UK has committed more than £280 million in Sudan this year. Of that, £140 million will be provided through DFID in its African context. We have offices in various countries. We have an office in Juba as well as the one that has been established for some years in Khartoum. The further £140 million will be in the assessed contributions to the two peacekeeping missions in Sudan—United Nations Mission in Sudan and United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur. My hon. Friend Daniel Kawczynski mentioned that he had spoken to a member of the African Union, which supplied forces to UNAMID.
That shows how much that is a joint UN and African Union mission in Darfur, and it is vital that that be maintained.
The UNMIS mission has just been renewed up to
We read last week about recent incidents of various killings—what has been called south-south violence—and those who are perpetrating them are doing so in an insurgency role and are often, allegedly, dispossessed ex-generals with various interests. Those are areas in which we have to make sure that there is an ability to resist the undermining of the important process of going forward in a positive way that meets the enormous aspirations that were articulated by many people when they queued to vote in the referendum with such unity of purpose, which was an interesting phrase used by Mark Lazarowicz. If we can harness the unity of purpose that delivered the referendum result, we can have great hope for the way in which south Sudan will be able to develop its resources in order to build an economy upon which it will be able to sustain the interests of its people.
In addition to the two lots of £140 million this year—the assessed contribution and the direct bilateral aid that we have identified—a further £8.3 million will be provided for conflict prevention projects and to support the Assessment and Evaluation Commission. After this financial year, as we announced following the DFID bilateral aid review, we will provide £140 million a year for the next four years up to 2014-15, which is one year beyond the four-year envelope that we have announced for others. Sudan, therefore, has already been singled out for special treatment to achieve the greater predictability and certainty that has been called for by many Members who have spoken in today’s debate. That support will be for both countries, north and south.
Our four-year strategy will focus on transition from humanitarian programmes to support for durable and sustainable livelihoods in conflict-affected areas. It will encourage peacebuilding between the north and the south, in the east, in Darfur, and between Sudan and its neighbours. It will support increased democratic and accountable governance, operational and fiscal decentralisation, and a reduction in the incidence of corruption. That was another point that was made forcefully, and rightly so, by my hon. Friend the Member for The Cotswolds. The strategy will also focus on more equitable and sustainable development through a better use of the national budget, including a shift from military expenditure to more productive use of resources, and a focus on economic diversification and employment. I will address directly the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham. His comments led us to stretch our terms of debate to the issue of trade and badging what we do from the UK. I will come back to that point because it is important that we deal with it.
It is clear that poverty indicators are generally worse in south Sudan. We have come to the conclusion that, as a rule of thumb, at this stage about 65% of the funding—about £90 million out of that £140 million—will be focused on the south. The remaining 35% of our funding—around £50 million—will focus on the north of Sudan, including Darfur, the east and the three areas known as Abyei, South Kordofan and the Blue Nile.
I do not wish to interrupt or pre-empt what the Minister might say about the accountability of the spending. He talks about corruption. There is an argument that, if we put no money into Africa—absolutely zero aid—it would prompt many of these corrupt organisations to become far more transparent and utilise the money they have far better. I do not agree fully with that argument. However, I am concerned. The money we are providing is part of a £44 billion package of aid that goes to the whole continent of Africa every single year. The amount of money that is generated by mineral exports is $393 billion a year. That is a huge amount. We know that that money does not reach the front line because of corrupt Governments. I would like to hear the Minister’s thoughts on how we can prevent that money from being wasted and ending up in places such as Dubai, rather than going to the front line, where we would like to see it.
Let me absolutely categorically assure my hon. Friend that, as far as we are concerned, corruption is completely unacceptable. To the extent that we have knowledge of corruption and can prove it, we have a completely zero tolerance approach to it. We have a much more explicit understanding of the issue and a lot more work has been done on identifying how to stop the opportunities for corruption, given that it has become endemic in some countries during some parts of the processes.
I will come on to transparency, but I hope that my hon. Friend will take some assurance from the review on bilateral and multilateral aid that has taken place during the previous 12 months. The various multilaterals were scored according to how well they were doing, including in relation to transparency. On the receiving Governments, we have pledged an aid transparency guarantee and have said that we will put all expenditures above £500 on the net, which DFID is now doing.
We also want to help to empower civil society organisations in receiving countries, so that they can see at a grass-roots level what is meant to be coming to their country. They should then be able to make demands upwards into their systems. We need to encourage democratic institution building, so that the process is no longer something done to them as peoples. Such organisations should be able to demand that those who are politically accountable to them say what they are doing with the money that is supposed to have come their way. If we can get that transaction transparency at both ends, that is precisely where we hope to be able to improve the situation considerably.
On the example my hon. Friend gave that we should perhaps go to year zero and remove all support to Africa, the only people who would suffer would be the poorest, and the only people who would have a temporary blip would be those who might have to search hard in their Swiss bank accounts rather than suffer anything at all.
Is the Minister aware of the American Dodd-Frank Act that has been passed? That obliges companies listed on the New York stock exchange to declare how much money they give to a country’s Government or individual Heads of State when they strike deals on oil and so on. Could we apply that to DFID and British companies that are operating in Sudan and elsewhere to make sure that there is that transparency?
That will form part of the state building of Sudan, and it applies elsewhere. Whether or not we are dealing with Dodd-Frank as an example, the Chancellor has said that he wants to explore that idea and see what lessons it has for us at a European level because, of course, it is only worth moving if we all move as one.
We also need to recognise that many African countries are mineral rich and that that is a potential means by which the private sector will be able to develop in such a way as to benefit the greatest number of people. The evidence shows that, if we can get the right explosion of what we might glibly call the middle class, or at least rising economic prosperity among a greater number of people, that will create the biggest, best and most sustainable alleviator of poverty. In the meantime, getting good public services, relieving poverty, saving lives and improving health have to be the first responses—even beyond humanitarian emergency responses—so that we can make sure that people have the opportunity to take part in that prosperity. At the moment, people are often denied a sufficiently long life even to have an opportunity to be a part of that future.
I was in Sudan three years ago in 2008. I went as chairman of the charity, the Malaria Consortium, of which I was then the honorary trustee chairman. I went from Juba, which at that point had only 10 metres of road metalled, up to Rumbek and Wau, where I met the new President of south Sudan, Salva Kiir, who happened to be landing in his jet—I had gone by car. We met on the airport apron and went up to Northern Bahr el Ghazal at Aweil and out to the tiny village of Aroyo. I saw for myself—this is a bit of a surprise to most people; it was particularly a surprise to me when I saw the request for 300 boats on the accounts of the Malaria Consortium—that, when the rainy season comes, Sudan is awash with water. It is not very deep, but the only way to get around is by boat. Many people do not understand the logistical issues that face the people of southern Sudan and that part of the country, and the challenge of dealing with the poverty.
The other thing I remember from that visit—this is not in my brief, but I remember it well and it is relevant to our consideration of the whole of the humanitarian response—is that because there has been almost permanent war going on since the ’50s and many conflicts before then, there has been a tendency for people to scatter, disperse and effectively hide. There are no pockets of population that are easy to address in terms of disease, economic opportunity, education or health access. It is a case of finding lots of people in very remote areas. We are talking about a particularly difficult area to service.
When looking at the analysis as DFID, it was clear to us that we should divide the £140 million per annum for the next four years—there is also £280 million in the current year—by a £90 million and £50 million split. I will talk about the results we intend to deliver in a moment. Hon. Members will know that we have been absolutely determined—this is partly in answer to my hon. Friend Mr Ellwood—to say that it is not what we are spending that is important; it is the results we are seeking to achieve through working with local people. DFID does not go out there with DFID people. It has offices and so on, but we procure the best people in the best possible way—most transparently and by getting the greatest value for money—to deliver, many of whom are with the non-governmental organisations.
I shall partly answer a point I was going to mention later on NGOs. It is absolutely vital for the NGOs—particularly those with experience and knowledge of the territory, connections with people and trust within communities—to have the chance to bid for such opportunities. That is why on the DFID website there is a section on the Global Poverty Action Fund. CAFOD has knowledge of that, but other organisations will see that there is a series of rounds where those with expertise and experience have an opportunity to bid. If the organisations qualify, pass the due diligence tests and can demonstrate value for money and transparency, they will be part of the way in which we are able to deliver results.
The results we want to deliver in Sudan are to help 1 million people to get enough food to eat; to enable 240,000 more children to go to primary school; to provide malaria prevention and treatment for 750,000 people; to give 800,000 people access to clean drinking water and sanitation; to provide life-saving health and nutrition for to up to 10 million people; and to give 250,000 women better access to justice. That point was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for The Cotswolds.
I am so impressed with the Minister’s words, I feel extremely guilty for having tramped the streets of Eddisbury in the election to try to prevent him getting elected. It is a pleasure to hear what he is saying. His work in the field of malaria is very well known throughout the House and far wider. In view of the statistic he has just given, does he feel that we are doing sufficient to provide in-country medical advice, treatment and therapeutic support to prevent malaria re-emerging, or does he think that we will face many years when overseas aid will address the issue of malaria, particularly in southern Sudan?
The hon. Gentleman is right. Southern Sudan represents one of the cradles where tropical diseases are most virulent and are most likely to sustain over our lifetimes. If one were to pick the three areas where it would be difficult to rid the world of malaria and other tropical diseases, they would be parts of the DRC, parts of Nigeria and southern Sudan. There is, therefore, an opportunity to make an appreciable difference and contribute significantly to the millennium development goals. That is why the focus on south Sudan, irrespective of the fact that it fits very well with our intention to put money behind conflict states and fragile states, will have a major multiplier and leverage effect.
Of course, NGOs and donor agencies will be instrumental in ensuring that there is sustained, predictable programme money to help local health systems, as they grow, to develop malaria control and malaria elimination opportunities. Equally, it will be important to recognise that, with a very low capacity in southern Sudan, it will be many years before the population will not be afflicted by malaria. A little like Ethiopia, southern Sudan is prone to epidemics of malaria simply because of the nature of the vector. In other parts, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, malaria is more endemic and persistent across all the seasons. It is easier to persuade people to use nets all the time, whereas it is more difficult to persuade people to use the preventative method of a net when there are epidemics, because very often they do not get the net up before the epidemic has already taken hold. Without getting too diverted on malaria, about which I have been known to be able to wax lyrical—
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, because he is making a very useful speech. He has said what he would like to happen in Sudan. Can he confirm whether the Department for International Development is in discussions with United Nations agencies to produce a plan of precisely which country’s aid agency will do what and which NGO will do what, so that there are not any overlaps, but equally, so that there are not any underlaps in achieving the very admirable aims that he has just outlined?
My hon. Friend makes a powerful and important point. I was going to come on to his list, which was a shopping list rather than a too-difficult-to-do list, a bit later. He is right. There needs to be a clear delineation of who is meant to be doing what in order to achieve a co-ordinated and comprehensive approach, so that the benefits can feed off each other. Often in aid delivery, there has been a need to think about how to put the inputs in, rather than recognising what combined results we want at the end. The reason why his point is well-made is that, at a democratic and governance level—but also at the level of delivering good developmental aid—that is what might be termed as the post-CPA framework. Where will the governance levers be? Is it going to be a question just of donor agencies, NGOs and the UN talking about south Sudan, or is it going to be a question of south Sudan talking to them about how we all helped to contribute to their initiative, to deliver it on the ground and to embed it?
It is fair to say that it is not yet clear what form the post-CPA framework will take, but the main objective is to agree as much as possible—as was identified in the debate—where all the areas of difference lie. While they sit there, whether it is Abyei or the three areas, there remains the tension that does not allow the space through which that kind of co-ordinated consensual approach can take place. We are absolutely determined to do our best to foster that resolution of the differences, because we will get effectiveness and value for money, which is part of the transparency answer, only providing we have that consensual opportunity. While there is a dispute, people will seek to gain an edge off the other and that is where we get disunity. I am glad to have the opportunity to underscore that point, which is why it is so important that we agree as much as possible before the CPA expires on
We are working with Thabo Mbeki and his high-level panel on precisely that. It is more likely to be achieved—a point that I think was hinted at by the opening speaker—if this is not seen to be a somewhat old-style solution of the international community talking about another country, and particularly a new country, but the family of African countries coming together themselves to produce something that might be regarded as an African solution. That is much more important, which is why Thabo Mbeki and his high-level panel are important and crucial to the process. We are encouraging all those parties to maintain as much momentum as possible in advance. I shall come back briefly to some of those issues.
I was talking about the financial commitment and the results that we are hoping to achieve. That was also partly in answer to the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith, who wanted to know that we were in it for a sustainable, predictable period so that people could plan with some confidence. The financial commitment to Sudan represents a large amount of British taxpayers’ money. It is a priority for us to ensure that it is spent well, represents, of course, good value for money, and brings real benefit in terms of building peace and delivering assistance to those affected by conflict and extreme poverty. We are determined to ensure that our aid reaches the people who need it most. We do not give any money directly—let us be absolutely clear—to the Governments in Khartoum or Juba. All our funds are routed through NGOs, private sector firms and multilateral agencies, which have robust financial management systems in place. That is part of the due diligence and the tendering process and the real, tough hurdles that they have to get across. We require a detailed narrative and financial reports from all our partners, as well as audited statements. DFID staff also conduct regular monitoring of progress and formal annual reviews in line with our own project management procedures.
The UK is committed to its relations with north and south Sudan. We recognise that sustainable peace in Sudan can only be delivered by addressing the root causes of conflict, and we continue to urge the north and the south to take the steps needed to resolve the outstanding issues from the comprehensive peace agreement by
I will come on to some of the other issues in a moment, but on the issue of Abyei, in addition to Thabo Mbeki and his high-level panel, who seek to broker these solutions, we welcome the ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration and the way in which that may help to support the outcome. That is an important point to put on the record.
I entirely understand the point my hon. Friend makes about Thabo Mbeki’s high-level group and the need for that to be seen as an African solution, but is he confident that the Government of south Sudan have the necessary capacity and support to be able to actively engage with all the parties, which is necessary to bring matters to a successful conclusion?
One of the central points my hon. Friend made in his excellent speech was about whether we could lend capacity to help, particularly in south Sudan. One has to recognise that this is having a disruptive effect on north Sudan as well. While I do not want to sound as though I never want to make a decision by being too even-handed, at the same time we need to recognise that this is not just south Sudan. We also have to enable, through our aid, north Sudan to be functional as well. It will lose a huge amount of its country, and that is where the citizenship issue has become so difficult to resolve. I hope that some of the suggestions that have been made in this debate will be listened to carefully, because they sounded both visionary and like possible resolutions of that difficulty.
On lending capacity such as the human resource of experts—more than just money and the expectation of the results that that will buy, which was a point reinforced by my hon. Friend the Member for The Cotswolds—we have already made certain offers, some of which have been taken up. We have moved beyond—with confidence, I hope—any sense of guilt as the former colonial power. Many years have passed, but we recognise that we still have expertise in matters such as mapping, with surveying technology as well as knowledge from the past. Some offers have been taken up, although not all of them. We must build confidence and relationships, but I assure my hon. Friend that such offers have been made. There is more to be done, but it would be nice if some of those offers were taken up with more alacrity.
Part of accepting such offers is also accepting, to a degree, the basis for a resolution of disputes such as the Abyei demarcation or allocation. Any such resolution will be on the basis of maps and surveying—what was originally marked, or the contours of the land—rather than of what at the moment is a sense of tribal identity, or pastoralists’ right to transit across certain lands without crossing a border. Those complex issues remain to be negotiated, but the main point is to get the parties into a negotiating frame with such capacity building, as my hon. Friend said.
That gives me the opportunity, tangentially, to give credit to what was mentioned in the opening of the debate: the importance of some of the Church groups, such as the Episcopal Church mentioned by my hon. Friend Tony Baldry. I was pleased that he referred to the Archbishop of Juba, whom I had the privilege to meet, not only to hear his generous thanks but his recognition of the deep thought on how assistance and support should be given in order to achieve that negotiating framework of trust and respect, which has enabled us to have a real role.
Without being explicit, the debate touched on the visit of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to Sudan shortly, as part of the troika. All three will be travelling together, which is an important and powerful signal of unity and consistency of approach that has taken many years to bring about. Their message will be to encourage the various bodies to resolve the difficult issues, rightly building on the recognition of reasons to have trust and respect, and we can have a role in that. I was grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for The Cotswolds for making that point.
I am conscious that I have not yet had a chance to cover some of the other points. How long does the debate go on for, Mr Walker?
People might need to dash away, but I shall cover a few of the points.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East and others asked about the Lord’s Resistance Army. The LRA, having been driven out of northern Uganda, is now in pockets throughout the Central African Republic, the borders of south Sudan and the edges of parts of Uganda, even tilting into southern Darfur. We all abhor the whole essence of that abominable organisation, with its child soldiers and the mayhem it has caused over many years, but we are also concerned whether it might destabilise progress for south Sudan.
We are determined that the LRA should not represent such a factor by urging the regional Governments and peacekeeping forces—we have the two UN forces—to co-ordinate closely their efforts in combating the LRA. The point made by my hon. Friend the Member for The Cotswolds about how quickly it can regenerate was well made and is well known among the experts. One of the best things to do, as part of our response, is to engage with the demobilisation of LRA combatants. We should offer the hope of such engagement to those young people.
I visited Gulu recently, too, but I was there some four years ago in another guise, when I met some former LRA child soldiers who have been converted. Some of them have visited the DFID offices in London. It is important to recognise that we must take such positive and constructive steps as well as simply maintaining our vigilance and, where we find the LRA, rooting it out of areas in which it might destabilise neighbouring countries.
On the LRA, I would like to mention intelligence specifically. The LRA leadership has particularly good intelligence about the location of the armies that they are combating, and how quickly they can move. It is therefore necessary to be able to outpace it, which requires those regional forces to have more helicopters. Helicopters and intelligence about the LRA’s activities are key to defeating it.
I know that and, when I have travelled in some difficult conflict areas such as the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, helicopter is the only mode of transport capable of being used by the UN for any purpose, so my hon. Friend’s point is extremely well made. I shall look into access to such genuinely vigilant machinery from the sky. If it is not available, I shall ask some more questions and perhaps reassure him at a later date.
Another point, made not least by my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham, was about trade. I emphasise that as far as DFID is concerned, for the past 11 years and at least since the International Development Act 2002, by law there can be no link between our aid—our overseas development aid spend—and British trade. That is the law, and what we must conform to. However, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office can make trade an explicit element of foreign policy, which it has now done as one of the new Foreign Secretary’s decisions. Trade, therefore, is now central to every aspect of our overseas engagement.
I confirm from discussions with my fellow Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs with responsibility for Africa, my hon. Friend Mr Bellingham, that he has been looking explicitly for trade opportunities in both southern and northern Sudan. His visit received some publicity, but it was perfectly understood that the trade side was vital, and we have a long-standing trade relationship. Trade is an essential element in promoting the wealth-creation side of those economies. There is a clear distinction between what is done by DFID as part of programmes for ODA spend and what is done for trade by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and, indeed, by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.
What is important and new is the DFID policy decided on over the past year, which is to include specifically, as a complete pillar of work, private sector development and the encouragement of the private sector and of trade opportunities in a context of confidence that enables people to be entrepreneurial, to have access to finance, to be above micro-finance, to have the ability to take a risk and to have foreign direct investment more encouraged because of greater security from an independent judicial system or in repatriation of dividends. Those are all things that people around board tables who take risks with money borrowed from banks need, so that they will be prepared to engage, whether in a tractor factory, a spares supply chain, some kind of commodity or agricultural processing.
Such discussions with countries might often be an FCO matter—which countries might we invest in, and which companies might do it—but it will also be a DFID matter, for a DFID Minister to decide. Such a policy is part of the discussions that my ministerial colleagues in DFID and I have had. For instance, a country might be prepared to make adjustments to its land law, so that those who acquired land could be confident that it was not going to be confiscated from them. That element would create confidence for investors, who would then know that they had collateral to offer to a bank, so that they could invest further, develop markets and make demands about the infrastructure that ought to be put in place in order for them to get goods to market. We have clear dividing lines but, at the same time, they are part of a co-ordinated whole. We can satisfy, quite rightly, the idea of a strong recognition of what is development and what is trade.
Allied to that was the question of whether we should badge our aid more explicitly. Hon. Members will be aware that, whether in Sudan or elsewhere in Africa, DFID has generated a strong brand as a trusted deliverer of development benefit and results. DFID has a brand, and one of the issues we face in trying to change that is that we might be in danger of taking something away, because DFID is currently respected. Importantly, we are working very hard, and hon. Members here will see from the letterhead when I write to each and every one of them that it refers prominently to “UKaid”—
I will do my best to respond to the debate, Mr Walker. I accept your stricture, and perhaps we can explore the issue on another occasion.
I think I must return to that, because I am running out of time. I had not appreciated that the right hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill needed so much time to wrap up.
Jo Swinson referred to human rights and the International Criminal Court. It is vital to urge respect for its processes, to have no compromise in our approach to human rights, even on some of the trade issues that have been mentioned, to continue our determination to focus on our efforts to engage with Darfur’s security, and to maintain this important engagement of trying to stop the destabilisation of south Sudan by violence.
I have noted the points about banking and US restrictions. I have the excellent shopping list from my hon. Friend the Member for The Cotswolds. It is highly informative, and I will ensure that it is injected into the processes that DFID and the FCO are utilising for our engagement with Sudan. I have plenty to take from this debate to help me brief the Secretary of State for his upcoming visit with the troika, and we are of course focused totally on the prevention of conflict, and the creation of peaceful opportunities.
The policy remains as it is: the sanctions are in place, and they are an important aspect of our international relations. I have nothing to report that would change the current situation.
I hope that I have at least given a flavour of the matter. I used the available time, which was a reasonable amount, but I am happy to ensure that the proposer of the debate has enough time to conclude. If any hon. Members want to drop me a line about any points that were raised but that have not been adequately covered, I will ensure that I address them in detail.
The principal issue is to recognise that the people of north and south Sudan now have an opportunity to put many of their differences behind them by having adhered to and demonstrated a strong commitment to a constitutional process that will give a new opportunity to the people of south Sudan. We want to make our respectful contribution—
I will not give way, because in all fairness I must give the proposer of the debate the opportunity to wind up.
I am not for one second introducing aggro that I do not feel by saying that I enjoyed the 43 minutes for which the Minister spoke. I assure him that I, like others, will carefully consider the many points that he made. We appreciate the thought that he has given to the various issues that were raised, and we will have an opportunity to read what he said. My immediate response before reading his speech is that what he said on CPA, Abyei, the Mbeki group, south Kordofan, the Blue Nile and so on was very helpful, if only because these issues have scarcely been reported in recent times. We all appreciate that there have been huge issues throughout the world in Tunisia, Egypt, Japan and elsewhere, and we understand that they should be fully reported, but the great merit of this excellent debate is that in this Parliament, which is representative of the people of the United Kingdom, we have put Darfur on the agenda again.
I welcome the Minister’s comments, and I welcome DFID’s role in these important matters. Numerous points were made in the debate. Did I agree with all of them? It would be less than honest if I said yes, but there was a remarkable measure of agreement throughout the Chamber. The points on which we agree—in a few moments I want to turn to the future of Sudan—and the debate have offered hope to many people, including those who have followed the debate, and those outside who hear about our discussion. That, too, is long overdue.
I thank Tony Baldry for his contribution. I am glad that I have time to say that he has focused on these issues, particularly Sudan, in his role as Chair of the Select Committee on International Development, and in so many other ways. I believe that on these issues his constituents should be proud of him, and I am sure that they are. If the debate had any purpose at all, it was met in his wonderful message in the statement from the Anglican bishops, and I hope that he will feel free to tell them that we reciprocate their objectives and hopes for the future of Sudan, and the prayers that they have no doubt expressed. I thank him for his contribution.
Mr Ellwood travelled from Bournemouth for the debate, and I thank him for that. He referred to the complexities in north and south Sudan, such as the 200 ethnic groups. I was very pleased that he mentioned, as others did later, the humanitarian crisis and how the United Nations sees it. He also referred to the problems of fundamentalism.
If I have one regret when it comes to disagreement, it has to be with Daniel Kawczynski. Until the last five minutes or so of his speech, I thought he was doing remarkably well, and that is still my view. That said, he was a brave man willingly to take on Clare Short and China in one speech. Clare Short and I had our disagreements and, sadly, she is not now even a member of my party, but she re-established international development as a Department. It been on the fringes. I mean no disrespect, but when I came to Parliament it was led by a Minister of State in the House of Lords with 10 minutes’ Question Time at the end of Foreign Affairs questions. Clare Short re-established the role of international development and reminded the people of Britain that there are poor people in a rich world.
In 1982, when I came to Parliament, the Brandt report was published and reminded us that although we have responsibilities to the poor south, there is some interdependence. The point about looking to the future, and to trade, exports and interdependence was made well by the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham and others. That is something I welcome and for which Clare ought to be remembered.
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman mentioned mineral extraction—that point was taken up by other hon. Members and I will come to it later if time allows. Jo Swinson made a positive speech. She dealt with violence after the referendum and rightly drew our attention again to Darfur, which she thought had been overshadowed. She was not the only hon. Member who mentioned gender, and she was absolutely right to raise that subject and speak about the lack of rights for women in Sudan. Although there may have been a few improvements on the fringes, her comments were a reflection of what is going on in both north and south Sudan, directed from Khartoum.
I regard Geoffrey Clifton-Brown as a personal friend. He and I visited Australia together as part of a CPA delegation. I was not surprised that his speech was so beautifully well informed and comprehensive or that it contained a great deal of clarity to help our understanding of this complex situation. Without being too hard on the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham, whom I respect very much, I felt that his description of the poverty, lack of clean water and health care, malnutrition and the poor priority given to education in that part of the world contrasted greatly with his attitude to debt that we heard towards the end of his speech.
Perhaps I should deal with the issue of debt before the clock ticks on much longer. I will set aside the domestic debate about the banks and so on because you would rightly remind me that that is not part of this debate, Mr Walker. I do not believe that in this wealthy, modern world of ours, the most impoverished and destitute people should be those who repay all the debt, base and interest. Every three seconds one of them has died as we have been debating this afternoon. Let me draw to the attention of the Chamber to the view of the Jubilee Debt Campaign; I assume from what the Minister has said that the Department for International Development will take these views on board. On Darfur it stated:
“Almost 60 per cent. ($20 billion) of Sudan’s debt is interest.”
That is money added to the sum that was borrowed, but it was not borrowed in the interests of those poor, hapless people who have been described so well by the hon. Member for The Cotswolds and others. I listen to opinions expressed by British taxpayers, and I do not believe that they are so mean-minded as to say that we who benefited from colonialism, not only in Sudan and Africa but elsewhere, and who also benefited from the Marshall plan after the second world war, without which we could never have thrived, would wish to deny the same things to countries as hapless and difficult as both sections of Sudan.
Having—I hope—put the issue of debt to bed, I will mention some of the other speeches. Mike Weatherley mentioned the Sudanese diaspora, which was an important contribution to the debate. I wish him well in the visit he is due to undertake, and I look forward to hearing his views on it afterwards. My hon. Friend Stephen Pound made a powerful and well-informed intervention that was witty, classical—
It was wholly relevant and compassionate. I will tell my hon. Friend something that I have always wanted to say, but did not plan on saying so publicly: he should not underestimate his own intellect. I think that he was on to something, and if we were to follow the advice that he gave us in his speech about how to deal with Sudan, and take that in a global context, much progress would be made. I welcomed his speech, and particularly the goals that he set.
My hon. Friend Mark Lazarowicz made one of the winding-up speeches, and I pay tribute to the clarity of his speech and to the marvellous work that he did in this field before coming to the House. I am delighted that he speaks on these issues from the Opposition Front Benches. He speaks well and is remarkably well informed. I hope that he will get the opportunity to implement in Government some of the beliefs that he has held for many years, sometimes alone. I remember him speaking at Scottish Labour party conferences, which were perhaps once more concerned with domestic issues. Nevertheless, he got right to the heart of the issues that we have been addressing today.
What are those issues? This is a time of globalisation, and despite the awful poverty, conflict and lack of hope for the future, Sudan has the benefit of mineral resources which, if properly organised, could mean a brilliant future for all people in the country. People rightly talk about corruption, and I accept that is an issue. Perhaps I may say with some modesty that I sponsored the International Development (Reporting and Transparency) Act 2006 which dealt with that very issue. I acknowledge the help that I received in getting that Act through Parliament from a number of Government Members, not least the hon. Members for Bournemouth East and for Banbury.
Of course we want transparency and to wipe out corruption. I welcome what the Minister had to say on figures, and he should not take this as a rebuke. However, when he gave us those figures, I reflected that until we took the issue of corruption and transparency seriously, the money did not go where British taxpayers wanted it to go. That is why Clare Short was such a successful Minister. In some ways I am slightly surprised that nobody has mentioned the way she took on the European Union and said, “When it comes to multilateral agreements, development and aid we want to know why the EU is acting in that way and what the arguments are. We will support those arguments when we believe them to be right, but we are entitled to know the thinking behind them.” She deserves credit for that, and very much more.
As we come to the end of the debate, let me say that had it been held at prime time on the Floor of the House, people would have been very proud of our Parliament. They would have been proud because they share the view of Edmund Burke that all that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing. With all its limitations, I believe that we have done something in today’s debate, and offered hope, prosperity and good will to people who have long deserved it.
Question put and agreed to.