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.