HC Deb 14 October 2003 vol 411 cc17-8
12. Mr. Stephen O'Brien (Eddisbury)

If he will make a statement on the role of the United Nations in ending the illegal trade in diamonds in Africa. [132009]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Bill Rammell)

The United Nations has helped to break the link in Africa between illicit sales of rough diamonds and armed conflict through a combination of embargoes on the diamond trade and the deployment of peacekeeping operations in countries such as Angola, Liberia and Sierra Leone, as well as through several resolutions in support of the Kimberley process certification scheme for rough diamonds—a scheme that this Government pushed for strongly.

Mr. O'Brien

The Minister will have read the UN report on the illegal exploitation of natural resources in the Democratic Republic of the Congo that was published a full year ago in October 2002. Does he agree that the trade in so-called dirty diamonds is one of the greatest evils blighting large parts of the African continent? Can he therefore assure the House that if there is any evidence of a British person being involved in that evil trade, firm and effective action will immediately be taken to deal with that person and that trade?

Mr. Rammell

I share the hon. Gentleman's concern about the diamond trade—that is why we have initiated and supported the Kimberley diamond process certification scheme. I believe that he refers to the Democratic Republic of the Congo expert panel on natural resources. If substantiated evidence comes forward, we shall investigate it and take action. We remain willing to investigate the panel's allegation when such evidence becomes available. I understand that further information and analysis is expected in the panel's next report in late October. One of the worries about the process is the time it takes the United Nations committee to come up with substantiating evidence.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)

The Minister knows that attempts to stop the trade will be strongly supported in the House. However, does he agree that it is vital that the genuine trade of African countries that produce diamonds and are utterly dependent on that is not damaged? Such damage is unacceptable.

Mr. Rammell

I understand and share my hon. Friend's concern. That is why the Kimberley process certification scheme has been structured as it has, with the participation of the African states. It ensures that the legitimate diamond trade can continue to provide resources and funds to help rebuild those countries that so desperately need it.

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