HL Deb 12 July 1991 vol 530 cc1591-3

11.6 a.m.

Lord Mowbray and Stourton asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether in view of numerous positive steps taken by the Sudan Government, they will norrnalise British-Sudanese relations and resume development aid.

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, we follow developments in Sudan closely and keep our policy under review. We welcome the reported release of certain political detainees and the more forthcoming attitude of the Sudanese Government to the international relief effort taking place in their country. But serious problems remain on human rights and in other fields. We are also concerned that little has been done to settle the long-standing civil war. There is therefore no reason to reverse our policy on developmental aid but we shall continue to play a substantial part in the massive relief effort now under way.

Lord Mowbray and Stourton

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that very full Answer. Are the Government aware that two months ago the special correspondent of The Times in Khartoum gave it as his opinion that the Government of the Sudan were genuinely trying to mend fences with their friends in the West—of whom they like to think we are one? Is the Minister also aware that the massive humanitarian food effort that the Government are undertaking—and I accept that they have given massive aid in the past year—will not bring relief to all the 7 million people? Are there not also 3.5 million displaced persons? Are there not now also an additional 2 million refugees, including a large chunk of the Ethiopian army? Are the Government satisfied that there is no danger of the food being stockpiled and not distributed because of the vast distances in that country?

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, the tragic circumstances described by my noble friend are exactly as he says. They could hardly be worse. I must tell my noble friend that we have found much to criticise in the policies pursued by the present government in Sudan; in particular their abuse of human rights, their failure to address the country's dire economic difficulties and their failure to make any serious attempts to settle the civil war. The Foreign Secretary reviews UK policy on Sudan regularly. We welcome the limited improvements which have taken place, but this is not the time to change our policies in what is still a very confused and volatile situation. No political conditions are attached to UK humanitarian aid. We believe that our policy on humanitarian aid is as effective as it could be in the circumstances.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, can the noble Lord say how much aid, apart from humanitarian aid, this country is able to send to the Sudan? Does he agree that the problems of transport and infrastructure in that country are immense? Can he say what steps are being taken to overcome those problems? Also, does the Minister agree that all the suffering and problems are due to the civil war which is taking place there and that the refugees in the south are being bombed by government forces? Can the Minister say what hope there is of a settlement of that war?

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, there are initiatives taking place to settle the problems, notably from Nigeria, which we welcome. As long as the administration takes the attitude that it does there is very little that we can do. The noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition asked what the Government are doing beyond giving humanitarian aid. I have to tell him that at present the policy is not to give developmental aid until the Sudanese Government change their policies.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the attitude he has expressed meets with the approval of those on these Benches? We hope and trust that the Government will be able to concentrate any aid through the voluntary bodies, as those bodies feel they can get the aid through. Has any improvement taken place in the military fundamentalist government in their attitude to the Christian and pagan communities in the south which have been persecuted for a very long time?

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, where possible we encourage and assist any voluntary aid. As to the attitude between the Moslem and Christian elements, we have difficulty in discerning any improvement in that relationship.

Lord Beloff

My Lords, will my noble friend the Minister go further and agree that the term "civil war" is somewhat inappropriate? Is it not the case that a Moslem regime in Khartoum is persecuting the Christians of southern Sudan? The bombing of the refugees referred to by the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition is only the latest example of the brutality of the regime. Would not the correct policy be that all humanitarian aid and indeed all other aid should be channelled direct to the people who are suffering and not through the regime in Khartoum, which, next to Saddam Hussein's, is probably the most unpleasant regime in that part of the world.

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, what my noble friend says is broadly true. However, I still think that it comes under the description of civil war. The humanitarian aid is directed where it is needed—to those areas where innocent people are suffering.

Baroness Ewart-Biggs

My Lords, can the Minister give the House some idea of the number of prisoners in Sudan being kept without trial? Can he further say whether the more cruel parts of Sharia law are being applied at the moment?

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, we have evidence that the promise to release political prisoners was kept. We welcome that. We are not clear whether there may have been fresh arrests and fresh detentions without trial. With regard to the noble Baroness's second question, I am afraid that I failed to hear it. I should be very pleased to hear it again.

Baroness Ewart-Biggs

My Lords, does the Minister know whether amputations under Sharia law are being applied, especially in the south?

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, I am not in a position to answer that question. I do not have the answer. I shall be very pleased to write to the noble Baroness.

Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe

My Lords, it is very difficult in a Starred Question to explore the full horrors of what is happening to persecuted people in the Sudan. Will the Minister therefore represent to his colleagues that there should be a mention of this problem in the gracious Speech so that we may fully explore the matter in the autumn if there has been no further improvement?

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, the situation is indeed desperate. I shall certainly pass on the noble Lord's remarks to my right honourable friend.