HL Deb 30 November 2000 vol 619 cc1464-6

11.21 a.m.

Baroness Rawlings asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is their aid policy for Sierra Leone.

Baroness Amos

My Lords, our policy in Sierra Leone is to work to promote peace and security and to strengthen the democratic processes. This will lay the foundations for the sustainable long-term development that is needed to enable progress to be made towards meeting the international development targets. We shall continue to work closely with other government departments in the pursuit of these aims. We shall also continue to provide humanitarian support for the large number of people displaced by the conflict.

Baroness Rawlings

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that detailed Answer. In the DfID development report of April 2000 emphasis is placed on the continuing support of the security sector. According to the report, that started in June 1999. Clearly this past strategy has been a failure. In the light of that will the Minister tell the House what appraisal Her Majesty's Government have carried out and how this package has been reconstructed?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I do not agree that our programme in Sierra Leone has been a failure. We have worked long and hard to promote peace and stability not only in Sierra Leone but also in the region. With respect to our programme in Sierra Leone, we have made it clear that we shall focus on help with security, the budget, good governance and humanitarian relief. In that respect we have worked with the police services and the defence services to ensure that we promote security within Sierra Leone.

Lord Redesdale

My Lords, given that many of the problems associated with Sierra Leone are due to the collapse of the governmental process, will the Minister give some examples of DfID's work in good governance?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, we are working to strengthen governance within Sierra Leone. For example, we support the establishment of an anticorruption commission which is an initiative of the President of Sierra Leone. We are also taking forward work in preparation for next year's elections because in terms of establishing the long-term democratic process in Sierra Leone those elections will be extremely important.

Baroness Whitaker

My Lords, I understand that the Government have spent some £35 million this year in Sierra Leone. How will this fund policy development in education, particularly primary education?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, we have committed £35 million to spend in Sierra Leone this year. We are also allocating money to humanitarian activities and have made contributions not only to UN managed programmes and projects but also to both international and local NGOs. As regards specific education projects, we have a project with Christian Aid which is aimed at the resumption of a quality primary education for children in Freetown. We also have a project, Conciliation Resources, to equip vulnerable, disaffected and marginalised youth with the skills and education needed to sustain meaningful livelihoods.

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, in the light of the substantial military commitment that the security aspects of the aid programme to Sierra Leone involve, has the noble Baroness consulted her noble friend on the Front Bench about the direct effects of that substantial commitment on military overstretch, particularly given the Government's propensity—as we read in the newspapers recently in regard to the Middle East—to make further offers of British troops for peacekeeping purposes? In the light of our tendency to make those commitments, will that overstretch be in any way mitigated by an increase in the defence budget?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, we are in constant discussion across the departments that are engaged in work in Sierra Leone. Those departments are the Department for International Development, the Ministry of Defence and FCO. As the noble Viscount will be aware, the defence commitments in Sierra Leone involve training the Sierra Leone army. We think that it is important that that army is properly trained so that it is able to deal effectively with the rebels in Sierra Leone. On the specific matter of overstretch, the noble Viscount will be aware from comments of my noble friend Lady Symons in this House that this is constantly under review. In the Statement that my noble friend made to the House last month she made the position clear.

Lord Tomlinson

My Lords, will my noble friend advise your Lordships' House what measures the Government are taking to seek to promote not merely the kind of security about which she has just spoken but security for civilians as and when Sierra Leone emerges from this bloody conflict?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, we are working hard to reform and improve the effectiveness, for example, of the police in Sierra Leone. We are helping to improve public confidence in the police. We are also working to help to reintegrate ex-combatants. We recognise that in the rural areas this is a much slower process. That is partly the result of the history of the police being targeted by the rebels in rural areas. There are problems with access, but we shall continue to make progress on this matter.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the NGOs—I declare an interest as someone involved in an NGO—very much welcome the anti-corruption measure that she mentioned as it is most disappointing to raise funds and then find that they do not reach those who need help? Will that policy be applied throughout Africa rather than just in Sierra Leone?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, working to deal with corruption in different countries across the world is a key priority for us in terms of our development agenda. We shall want to learn the lessons from any anti-corruption commission that is established in Sierra Leone to see whether or not what we learn from Sierra Leone can be used in other countries.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, with regard to the civil society in Sierra Leone, what assistance have the Government given in particular to women's organisations? Have they considered, for instance, the work which is being done by Mrs Zainab Bangura?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, a key theme of our work in all the countries in which we work is to promote gender equality. I shall have to write to the noble Lord on the funding of specific women's organisations in Sierra Leone. I shall, of course, place a copy of the letter in the Library of the House.