HL Deb 10 March 2004 vol 658 cc1238-40

3.1 p.m.

Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government:

What were the results of their recent talks with President Biya of Cameroon.

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, the Prime Minister and the President of Cameroon had a useful exchange, focusing on Cameroon's programme of democratic reform. The Prime Minister underlined the importance that we attach to transparent, free and fair elections, as evidence of Cameroon's commitment to democratic reform. We also discussed the Cameroonian Government's active engagement with the UN joint mixed commission over the Bakassi dispute.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister for that informative reply. What progress has been made towards setting in place the conditions for free and fair elections in Cameroon? In particular, has any reform been conducted of the electoral commission to enable it to consider complaints from people about the registration process and about restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly during the run-up to the election? Could she also say what has been done by the Cameroon Government to implement the recommendations of the Commonwealth-sponsored donors' meeting last October? Have the Government of Cameroon agreed to a visit by the Commonwealth mission to ascertain whether the conditions are in place for free and fair elections?

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, we remain firmly committed to supporting fair and transparent elections in Cameroon. The UK has funded the publication of the National Election Observatory's report on the 2002 legislative and municipal elections. A British consultant has been put in place to assist the government in preparing a strategy for the sensitisation and education of the electorate. We are also helping to supply literally transparent ballot boxes, so that there can be no question of stuffing ballot boxes, as has happened in many circumstances world-wide in the past. We are in close touch with the Government of Cameroon in preparations for the election and co-ordinate closely with the Commonwealth and the donor community.

Lord Rea

My Lords, will my noble friend say whether a particular aspect of the electoral process was discussed? It is one that has frequently been reported to be amiss—the accuracy of the electoral register. In all the elections that have taken place up to now, there have been reports of great difficulties for many people in getting on to the register. Therefore, the result of the election has been totally unrepresentative. Was that aspect discussed?

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, among our discussions with the Cameroon Government, we have made it clear that we believe a fair and transparent registration process is key to a well-run election. As I said, we have funded a consultant to work with the Government of Cameroon, to formulate a strategy for the launch of a national public information campaign. The result will be the production of clear and concise material for the public, outlining the laws and processes of the election, including the registration process itself.

Baroness Northover

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the situation in Cameroon harms the poorest the most? Does she see any sign that the government in Cameroon have any commitment at all to the achievements of the millennium development goals on the relief of poverty?

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, the Government of Cameroon are hoping soon to reach H IPC completion, which, as the noble Baroness will know, will involve debt relief when the completion point is reached. They have made some progress, which we commend. Of course, there is much further to go. We fully support the new developments—for example, the new legislation for the National Election Observatory, including consultation over its membership, autonomous budgets, plans for decentralised legislation and plans to establish a constitutional council and senate. They have put in place, with us, a poverty reduction strategy.