HL Deb 09 June 2004 vol 662 cc266-8

3.21 p.m.

Baroness Northover asked Her Majesty's Government:

What representations they are making to the G8 Summit regarding international action to deal with the situation in Sudan.

The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Amos)

My Lords, G8 leaders will discuss the situation in Darfur, western Sudan, in the course of the G8 summit in Sea Island, Georgia, taking place today and tomorrow. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister will take the opportunity to press partners to increase their contributions to the humanitarian response, and to support the African Union-led ceasefire commission. He will also make a Statement on the outcome of the summit in another place on his return.

Baroness Northover

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that Answer. I also thank her and her colleague in the Commons, the Secretary of State for International Development, for their efforts in this crisis. But given that international action is required in this crisis, what proposals are the Government making not only to the G8, but also in the contact that Mr Benn will be having this afternoon with Kofi Annan, in taking international action forward? Furthermore, recognising how important it is that the north/south peace process is kept on track, what can this Government do to put pressure on the Government of Sudan to relieve the crisis in Darfur, rather than to make it worse?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, is quite right. We need to make sure that the north/south peace process is kept on track. One of the things that we hope will happen in relation to that is some form of UN Security Council resolution which will underpin the protocols that have come out of Naivasha. With respect to other proposals, we will continue our dialogue with the UN, with the European Union and with other partners. The most urgent need of the moment is to encourage other donors to contribute to the humanitarian response in Darfur. The noble Baroness will be aware that we are the second largest donor, after the United States. But taking out the United States, ourselves and the European Union, the response from the rest of the world community leaves much to be desired.

Baroness Cox

My Lords, given the Government of Sudan's new and very cynical permission to grant access by aid organisations to, at best, 50 per cent of the 1 million-plus internally displaced people who are suffering and dying in Darfur, what measures are being taken by the international community to ensure delivery of essential medicine and food to all the internally displaced people, especially before the onset of the rainy season, when access will become difficult or impossible, and many more tens of thousands are expected to die?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, that the situation in Darfur is dire. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for International Development has just returned and is extremely concerned about the humanitarian situation there. Security remains the biggest concern because that is impeding humanitarian access. The Government of Sudan have made it absolutely clear that they will facilitate visas for those who are going in to assist NGOs, and they are going to speed up the process to enable much-needed humanitarian relief to come into the country. But we also need to get access to the parts of the country where there are internally displaced people, and to work with neighbouring countries like Chad where refugees have been displaced.

The Lord Bishop of Manchester

My Lords, is the Minister aware that there is a link between the diocese of Bradford and this province of the Sudan, and between the diocese of Salisbury and the Sudan? When I served in Salisbury in the 1970s, the country was going through a very bloody civil war. Since those days it has lurched from crisis to crisis, and there has been international appeal after international appeal. Is she able to give any hopeful sign that some international strategic thinking can be done which will enable us to find long-term peace in that country, and avoid these constant crises which are so tragic?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, the right reverend Prelate is right in saying that the situation in Sudan has existed for a long time and is the cause of great concern. I was not aware of the link with respect to Bradford and Salisbury, but I am aware that there are a number of links through the Churches.

The humanitarian crisis is one element, but the ongoing peace process negotiation is another and we must not forget that. We welcome the signing on 26 May of the latest protocols at the peace talks at Naivasha. They cover power-sharing in the two areas and, together with the previously agreed documents, provide the political framework for a comprehensive peace agreement. We must continue to work towards that and we are calling on all parties to work together so that the comprehensive peace agreement can be signed in the next few months.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, what help and assistance are we getting from the French Government, who could bring a great deal of influence to bear on some of the disruptive elements in the countries neighbouring Sudan?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, of course we are working with our French colleagues in the context of the European Union. I am unable to say today what specific action the French Government are taking in terms of their bilateral relationships with neighbouring countries, but I will write to the noble Baroness if there is more I can say.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, I welcome the contribution of £2 million announced by the Secretary of State for International Development towards the cost of the peacekeepers. However, has any response been received from the Sudanese Government to the Secretary of State's call for urgent and decisive action to curb the militias? If not, will the resolution she mentioned calling the attention of the international community to the Naivasha settlement be broadened to require the Sudanese to take this urgent and decisive action?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, on the discussions that my right honourable friend had with the Sudanese Government, the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, is right in saying that he pressed the need to abide by the ceasefire agreement and to rein in the militias and ensure full humanitarian access. My understanding is that he received a positive response from the Sudanese Government, but we must wait and see what happens on the implementation of that.

We are in discussions on the wider point of Security Council resolutions, but I am unable to say what the scope of any resolution might be when it comes to the point of being passed.