HC Deb 21 July 2004 vol 424 cc97-118WH

2 pm

Mr. Hilton Dawson (Lancaster and Wyre) (Lab)

I am very pleased to have the opportunity to open this debate. We have had a number of debates on Sudan in recent weeks, and the issue has been regularly raised with the Prime Minister, including this morning. I hope that this will be a well-informed debate because, by my reckoning, at least five hon. Members present have visited Sudan in recent weeks. Three weeks ago, the all-party group on Sudan travelled to Khartoum, to the Nuba mountains and to Rumbek in the south. On the Thursday and Friday, we went to west and south Darfur.

We witnessed a catastrophe in Darfur, which has got worse since the rainy season set in. We saw thousands of people who had been driven from their homes and were living in makeshift, inadequate shelters. They complained of hunger, and they lacked clean water, latrines and access to basic health care. Some of the people we saw may since have died, but everyone in the camp faces the prospect of death through water-borne disease over the next few months. Aid agencies were working heroically with limited resources and personnel, but in Darfur we saw thousands of people who need our help now.

In Kalma camp, I spent time playing with a ragged, rapidly expanding group of children who followed us everywhere shouting, "Okay". We shook hands and played some silly clapping and shouting games. They showed us a mobile phone, a radio and a camera fashioned out of clay. I have been in these situations a few times, and one feels that there is hope when children can still play. It is raining now in Kalma camp, and I desperately hope that those children are still all right. They should be—after all, they are the future of Sudan. Despite all the terrible things that we saw and heard, I believe that Sudan has a future.

I want to do something unusual and praise the Government of Sudan for some important things that they have done. They have joined the rest of the world in opposing terrorism. They and the Sudan People's Liberation Army have shown statesmanship, courage and leadership in bringing their country to the brink of a comprehensive peace agreement which, in the words of the Machakos protocol, aims to replace war not just with peace but also with social, political and economic justice which respects the fundamental human and political rights of all the Sudanese people. Overcoming understandable feelings of pride, as well as suspicion of the international community, they have made a huge commitment to a political settlement in Darfur. They have accepted responsibility for ensuring the security of the people of the region and have acknowledged the desperate need for humanitarian relief.

It is often said that the Government of Sudan react to international pressure. I am sure that is true, but it is even truer that they react to international partnership, as demonstrated by the success of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development at Machakos and Naivasha under the wise chairmanship of Kenyan General Sumbeiywo. The careful diplomacy of the troika—the USA, Norway and, to the Government's great credit, the United Kingdom—has also borne fruit. On our visit to the Nuba mountains, we saw the positive engagement of Sudanese armed forces and the SPLA with the excellent work of the joint monitoring commission. A growing relationship has developed out of the armed struggle that has cost two million lives over the past 21 years, enabling both sides to commit themselves to elections three years after a comprehensive peace agreement and, after six years, a referendum on whether there should be one Sudan or two.

Let us offer praise where it is due, encouragement where it is needed and criticism where it is justified. The criticisms voiced by the people of Sudan are justified, and let us pay them the respect of listening to what they have to say. Everyone on the visit was sceptical about the commission of inquiry on Darfur that was set up by the Government of Sudan. Many people in the UK would be sceptical if an inquiry set up by our Government reported first, and perhaps only, to the Prime Minister. However, the Sudanese Government inquiry reported only to the President. The chairman of the inquiry, the distinguished legal expert, Dafalla Al-Haj Yousif, said that perhaps Sudanese people should be allowed to show what they can do. The Government of Sudan have an opportunity to show what they can do to relieve the suffering of Darfur. They have issued a joint communiqué with the United Nations; they have the support of countries such as the United Kingdom that have given £62.5 million for humanitarian assistance; and they have made commitments that they must fulfil. They have committed themselves to a ceasefire, to political talks—regrettably, they have stalled since 15 July—and to a comprehensive plan to enforce law and order and to protect their citizens. They are committed to provide 50 per cent. of humanitarian assistance from their own resources and to facilitate the delivery of relief and assistance. They have also agreed to accept human rights monitors, the recommendations of the commission of inquiry and the deployment of the African Union ceasefire monitoring mission.

The eyes of the world are on the Government of Sudan, but the people who can best judge how well they work with the international community to meet their commitments to their own people are the people of Sudan, who will pass judgment when they vote in three years' time. The Sudanese Government have a huge task in Darfur, but they must do much more. They, the SPLA and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement still have a comprehensive peace agreement to conclude. Discussions about security are taking place in Naivasha, after which final negotiations will be required on how the various elements of democracy will work. It is obviously important that matters are dealt with thoroughly and concluded properly. For some time now, our group and others have been aware of the frustrations of many parties and regional groups about what they consider to be the exclusion of many Sudanese people from the process. Earlier today, members of the all-party group met a representative of the SLA, the main rebel group in Darfur. I was horrified by his depiction of the Machakos and Naivasha protocols as agreements that related only to north and south disputes rather than to the whole of Sudan. I was similarly horrified by his argument that the SPLA had shown that the only way in which to achieve progress is through armed struggle, designed to bring the Sudanese Government to the conference table and focus the world's attention on the gross underdevelopment of Darfur.

As we speak, there is conflict and massive displacement of civilians in western upper Nile. On our visit, we met representatives of the Beja people from the east of the country, who expressed indignation about their exclusion from the talks. It is a tragic and appalling irony that the Darfur conflict and crisis has arisen at a time when the whole of Sudan should be looking forward to a peaceful future. It is imperative that work gets under way to engage political parties, tribes, regional groups and the whole of civil society so that they can commit themselves to the development of peace, human rights, economic and social justice and democracy for the whole country.

We have been reassured many times that a comprehensive peace agreement will be signed, but it is vital that that happens soon. It is essential that groups throughout that vast country, which is the size of western Europe, learn of their Government's commitment to upholding the rights and aspirations of all their people so that none of them needs wage war again. The last thing that anyone needs in a country that has been at war for 38 of the past 49 years is more war. We should call on the SLA and the Government of Sudan to observe the ceasefire and to get round the conference table to hammer out a peace agreement in keeping with the Machakos and Naivasha protocols. They will need the assistance of the African Union to do so, but no one will benefit from the interference of other nations that wish to pursue their own interests. If Sudan is to make the transition from war to peace, it will need all the assistance that it can muster around the world.

During our visit, we travelled south to Rumbek, where the Sudan People's Liberation Movement is working to transform itself from an army into a democratic arm of local government. Nothing exemplifies the profound need for development more than Rumbek, as we discovered in a visit of only a few hours. A huge number of young people need education, the dirt roads are full of holes and the hospital—the only one for hundreds of miles—is massively under-resourced. The prison does not have effective walls, so people are held in chains, and there is no police force in an area where thousands of people have AK47s. In addition, the women's legal service urgently needs support so that it can represent women with very young children, who face imprisonment for adultery. The problems will doubtless increase in the short term as displaced people and refugees return to their homes from other areas in Sudan and from neighbouring countries across the border.

I commend the Government on their commitment to provide £150 million in development assistance in the next three years. One way of boosting the capacity of Sudanese public services in the short term is to encourage people who came to this country in the Sudanese diaspora but who now want to return to do so, even for short periods, so that they can pass on their skills and assist with the development of vital services. Development and immigration services could combine to promote innovative schemes. Sudan has oil and other natural resources, and can export food if its people are given the chance to grow it. The Naivasha protocols on wealth sharing will ensure that some people who have never had anything will have something in future, but it is essential that that money is used well, not least so that Sudan can demonstrate that the debt relief that it undoubtedly needs will be used to meet millennium development goals and will not be dissipated. I hope, however, that there will be no question of debt relief until Sudan improves its human rights record.

In the capital of Khartoum the benefits of public and private investment are visible in tall buildings and the major roads that are under construction. We visited the city and saw an urban redevelopment scheme at the Wadi el Bashir camp for internally displaced persons, where there was a disgraceful abuse of human rights. The mud-brick homes of people who had fled from conflict up to 20 years ago and who lived on the margins of the city with day-labouring jobs had been demolished, the inhabitants reduced to living in shacks on top of the rubble. Latrines had been demolished in a hot country at the start of the rainy season, thus inviting a cholera epidemic. There was no discussion or consultation; there was only an armed guard on a bulldozer to enforce compliance. Democracy cannot come too soon to Khartoum.

I have been speaking for a fair amount of time, but I want to return to Darfur, where I hope the children are still able to play. I shall represent some more voices of the people who may still be there. One old man wept by his home of grass and twigs that was about the size of a coffee table. A woman was trying to live under a thorny bush. Another woman who had given birth two days previously was sick, as was her child, and they were trying to live under a piece of plastic sheeting stretched over some grass and twigs. One woman's baby had been injured as she fled through the trees from a helicopter gunship. A man showed me where the Janjaweed had shot him. Some Arabs told me how the Sudan Liberation Army had driven them from their homes. Some people told me that they are all Muslim, but that their tribes include Arabs, Africans and people who are somewhere in between. A village leader told me that they all wanted to go home, but could not do so until it was secure, and that they would not be pushed to return until they were convinced that it was safe. Some people told me that they would never return to their villages, because if they did so they would never feel safe again.

One man acknowledged that the heart of the problem is the age-old dispute between pastoralists and nomads to which there must be a negotiated solution. Another man said that it is a complex situation. One woman simply said to the international community, "Please help." The situation is extremely complicated, but we must help. The Government, Members of Parliament and, indeed, our constituents can all do so. Yesterday, the Disasters Emergency Committee' rightly launched an appeal for Sudan. I profoundly hope that the entire population of the United Kingdom will respond to that appeal and provide resources and money so that people on the ground can ensure that services are delivered to some of the most needy people in the world.

The all-party group believes that parliamentarians can play a part. We all have constituents who contact us about international development issues, and their interest is most welcome. There is huge interest in international development and the problem of world poverty. We all have databases and lists of people whom we can contact. The all-party group will write to other MPs tomorrow to ask them to urge people in their constituencies to contribute to the DEC appeal. Such a transaction is, by its very nature, private, but we hope that MPs will have an idea of how much their constituents will contribute to the DEC appeal and that they will tell the all-party group. We could then say to the Government, "You are doing a great deal and have done a tremendous job of diplomacy. You are investing a great deal in development. Indeed, you are making the largest cash investment of any country in the world. You certainly outflank the other countries of the European Union, which need to do a great deal more. However, we want you to do more." We would appeal to the Government to make a contribution double the amount that MPs predict their constituents would contribute to the DEC appeal.

We can all do more to help the people of Sudan, and we must do more in the long term to assist the country's development . There is hope, and this is a crucial time for us to be involved in a positive and constructive way.

Dame Marion Roe (in the Chair)

Before I call the next speaker, I remind hon. Members that the winding-up speeches are due to start at 3 o'clock. Several hon. Members are trying to catch my eye. If speeches are kept reasonably short, everyone who wants to participate in the debate can do so.

2.20 pm
Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park) (LD)

Thank you, Dame Marion. I congratulate you on becoming a dame. I also congratulate the chairman of the all-party group on Sudan, the hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Dawson), on securing the debate so soon after our return from the country. I thank him, too, for being a brilliant chairman and for giving a speech that left little to be said, although I am sure that we will all say a lot.

My immediate reaction to the situation in Darfur is anger. I have said it before and I will say it again: since I was elected in 1997, this is the second time that there has been a major humanitarian crisis in Sudan and that makes me very angry. There are so many similarities between what is happening now and the situation in Bar al Gazal in 1997, which I witnessed. Even the Sudan Liberation Army appears to have connections, however tenuous, with members of the Sudan People's Liberation Army—it is certainly talking to them—who operated in southern Sudan and were among the combatants in the civil war there over so many decades.

There is a relentless flow of arms into African countries, especially Sudan. Wherever one goes, one sees little children in possession of arms whether or not they are child soldiers; arms are in all the villages. There are similarities between the Murahaleen in southern Sudan, who are definitely supported, aided and abetted by the Government of Sudan, and the Janjaweed in Darfur. They are nomadic, Arab tribes, who are armed and supported by the Government of Sudan. That might be denied, but it is reasonable to assume that what happened in southern Sudan is also happening in Darfur.

The Secretary of State is not present and nobody appears to have read the International Development Committee's very good report and investigation into the factors leading to crisis in southern Sudan in Bar al Gazal in 1997, yet similar things are happening in Darfur. Members of the all-party group find it strange that no one seemed to bother about what was developing in Darfur; all the signs were there but no one took any notice. As the hon. Gentleman said, there is fighting in Malakal in the upper Nile region. Could the same situation develop in upper Nile, as we are trying to deal with the problem in Darfur?

I am intensely angry that no development aid is going into Sudan, which is the size of Europe. It is as if we said that because there is civil war in Italy, for example, we must not give aid to the UK. That is the scale of things. For there to have been no development assistance or projects in those parts of Sudan that are not at war, is a very great error by the international community.

I am angry, too, because when we were in Sudan no one seemed to claim responsibility. The non-governmental organisations said, "Oh well, we knew but no one was listening", and the peace-process negotiators said, "We were concentrating on the peace process and we didn't know that things would be that serious in Darfur." The United Nations set-up that the group visited in Sudan denied all responsibility for or knowledge of what was going on. That was very depressing indeed for members of the all-party group; someone, somewhere could have alerted the United States and the UK negotiators even if the Government of Sudan had not been alerted or did not know what was happening. The situation has been going on for years. Why were they not alerted, and why did they not know?

As the hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre said, the peace process is excellent; we are so thrilled with it. The agreement is for all the people of Sudan. It promises elections in three years and that all regions will be involved. It will affect all the people of Sudan; it will help the people of Darfur and of upper Nile. Why was it not sold to all the people while this process was going on? As the hon. Gentleman said, the exclusion of people in other parts of Sudan from the peace process while negotiations were going on was a great mistake.

The crisis in Darfur is portrayed as genocide, ethnic cleansing and as Arabs versus Africans. People rightly remember Rwanda, and want something to be done about the situation. People like simple solutions and soundbite descriptions, but everyone who has been to Sudan knows that the situation is hugely complicated. No matter how complicated it is, the fact remains that tens of thousands of people have died already, hundreds of thousands will die if the aid does not get through to them, and a million or more are displaced. Living conditions are appalling, as the hon. Gentleman said.

The Sudan Liberation Army, which was formed only in 2003—it is less than two years old—claims that it had to take up arms against the Janjaweed because the traditional attacks by the nomadic Arab tribes against the pastoral Africans were getting worse, and it alleged that that was being supported by the Government of Sudan. That has gone on for decades. When I visited the displaced people's camp in Khartoum, I saw people from Darfur who had been there for nearly 20 years. Everyone must have been aware of what was going on and of the fact that it was escalating. The SLA claims that the Janjaweed are armed and encouraged by the Government of Sudan. As I said earlier, it is difficult not to believe that, because the Murahaleen in southern Sudan were certainly armed and encouraged by the Government.

When a SLA-led rebellion occurred, the Government of Sudan tried to put it down in a heavy-handed way. My reading of events is that the reaction was too heavy-handed, the Janjaweed were left to let rip, and the Government lost control of the situation and desperately needed help from the international community to deal with the crisis.

What must be done? There is no question but that aid must be provided to save lives. We must make the Government of Sudan stick to their commitments. Their written commitments, which are three pages long, are excellent, and contain all the things that need to be done. Some 50 per cent. of the aid needed will he contributed by the Government of Sudan, the transport of aid will be facilitated, the militia will be disarmed, and villages will be policed so that people can return to them. Please God let that happen, and let us help the Government of Sudan to make it happen.

The international community should also make its contribution, not just in aid but with more monitors and peacekeepers. We saw an excellent and impressive example of peacekeeping conducted in the Nuba mountains under a Norwegian general, General Wilhelmsen, who should be congratulated on the operation that he is undertaking there.

Can the African Union do the same thing? We are worried that the African Union peace monitors might not be strong enough or experienced enough. Is the international community prepared to strengthen the monitoring process in Darfur, once there is a proper ceasefire as opposed to a verbal one?

We must also sell the peace process to the rest of the Sudanese. As the hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre said, we saw little pockets of wonderful things. We visited a clinic run by Médecins sans Frontières in a village in the Nuba mountains. It was brilliant and well run, and I would have been happy to work or be a patient there. Likewise, there has been a huge improvement in Rumbek since we were there two years ago. Things are beginning to happen. Admittedly, it appeared that the work was being done by non-governmental organisations, and it needs to be rolled out throughout Sudan. Another example was an excellent school in Rumbek run by UNICEF, so there are signs of development.

What we need is a Sudanese Marshall plan agreed by the United Nations, international donors and the Government of Sudan, because we must help. The hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre mentioned the diaspora, and I have to plug my charity, Afrimed, which was founded by Zeinab Badawi. It is working on that issue, trying to get people from the diaspora to go to Sudan to give help for a few weeks or months.

I make a plea to the Minister to consider the needs of the Arab nomadic tribes in Sudan. It is all very well to dismiss them as monstrous, raiding and killing Janjaweed or Murahaleen, but they are not doing it just for fun. Global warming, which is our responsibility, is causing the desert to spread south in Africa, and people are running out of land on which to live and pasture their animals. It is difficult for them, and times are getting worse and worse. If we do not address their problem, there will be more strife and struggle as tribes from north Africa move further south, trying to get better conditions for their families and animals. We all know that a lack of development and diminishing land causes more war, that wars lead to more poverty, and that poverty leads to more war. The situation gets worse and worse.

Unless we address the issues, throwing aid at humanitarian disasters will be pointless. I know that that sounds cruel, but without long-term plans to help, our crisis appeals and humanitarian aid will mean only that people die more slowly. We must follow aid with proper development. Failing to act on the wider issues would mean that we could be as guilty of the charge of genocide as anyone. We must act.

2.33 pm
Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op)

Thank you, Dame Marion. I will take careful note of your strictures on time.

I am delighted to follow the chairman of the all-party group, my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Dawson), and the vice-chairman, the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge). I cannot follow their passion, as I shall be talking about the security situation, but I sign up completely to the emotional way they put their case, the accuracy of which I know to be only too apparent, having visited Darfur in particular and Sudan in general.

I have two quick appeals to make to the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin), and then I will comment more generally on security. One point comes directly from the meeting this morning with the representative of the SLA, which my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Wyre mentioned. That representative made it clear that the talks with the Sudan Government could not take place in Addis Ababa because the SLA representatives had not been able to get their passports properly verified. Could that be sorted out quickly? The fact that they had Eritrean passports probably did not help, but they need to get to Addis Ababa very quickly. Without those talks, there will be no opportunity for a ceasefire or any way of bringing meaningful peace to Darfur.

We should also ask the SLA to make it clear on the ground that it is opening up the land that it appears to control to humanitarian aid. The worrying thing we learned from the NGOs was that they knew very little about the land under SLA control. We should also make it clear to the Government of Sudan that we believe, having visited the camps—I visited Kass, which is between el-Geneina and Nyala—that any attempt to move the internally displaced persons, for whatever reason, without their full consent would be totally reprehensible. From what we saw in Khartoum, I would say that the Government do not have a good reputation. People are scared to death, and the last thing they want to be told is that they must move, even if it is for their own security. They do not believe it, and I think they have every reason not to.

I shall quickly mention the wider security situation. As my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Wyre and the hon. Member for Richmond Park said, we saw some very good things. The situation in the Nuba mountains showed that ceasefire monitoring could be effective. There is quite a complicated arrangement there between the three organisations: the verification monitoring team, the civilian protection monitoring team and the joint military commission. I shall not go through what each of them does, but within reason they pull together and seem to be an effective force on the ground. They are not great in number. The JMC, the organisation with which we spent the most time, numbers tens, not hundreds, of people, but because it can call on airborne movement it can get to places quickly, and it can work with other bodies, such as the CPMT, to examine outrages. All the evidence that both sides presented to us suggested that there had not been any serious outrages.

If the arrangement can work in Nuba, it can work elsewhere. The problem that I foresee, as has been mentioned by the hon. Member for Richmond Park—who is my hon. Friend in this respect—is the difficulty of transferring what works in Nuba to the north-south dialogue and to Darfur. I have not yet written my report, so my colleagues cannot disagree with me on that, but I hope they will see where I am coming from. I am worried because we are moving from a scheme that seems to work to a situation in which the UN is being asked to take over in the Nuba mountains at the same time as it takes over the north-south monitoring of the ceasefire.

We need the arrangements in place sooner rather than later. A worrying thing, which we have seen in Rumbek, is that there have been outbreaks of fighting among people who had previously been on the same side, just because there is no effective policing and there is not as yet any form of monitoring of who has weapons, what they are doing with them and whether they can be persuaded to hand them in. We need such arrangements in place sooner rather than later, and that is as true in Darfur where we urgently need the ceasefire to take effect. We are all led to believe that there is a ceasefire, but it did not seem that way when we were there because the Government were still on the ground with their helicopter gunships, and it seemed that bombing was still continuing, even if to a lesser extent. The SLA is still there and has not given up its land.

We need monitoring troops on the ground, and we need not just military personnel, but civilians—a mixture of the two. When my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development returned from his visit to Khartoum, he understandably made great play of the fact that we would be paying for those monitors. It would be good to know what progress is being made on that. The sad thing that emerged from our trip a fortnight ago was that there seemed to be little evidence of real people coming in and little evidence that the expertise available from the Nuba mountains was being drawn on, other than with regard to what was happening as a by-product of the complications that we witnessed. We need the expertise in the Nuba mountains to be brought in, and we need real people, although not in huge numbers, who know what they are doing. That is the pressure on the African Union.

We already have a different process in the Nuba mountains from that in the north-south dialogue, and a third group—the AU—is being asked to undertake the monitoring in Darfur. The possibility for confusion and, dare I say it, disagreement over who pays, who does what and who makes sure that it is done properly is obvious for all to see.

It is on that point that I make my plea to my hon. Friend the Minister. We need to get the security situation sorted out sooner rather than later. Yes, we saw starving people and people who will die from disease, but the overwhelming cry from the people in the camps was, "We want security. We will not go back until we know that our land is safe." We saw the burned-out villages, so we can understand that.

We have to secure those people where they are at the moment, and give notice of the fact that we will make sure that the countryside is returned to peace. We must ensure that that carries on in the longer term. That is an enormous effort, and we are doing that not just in Darfur, as my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Wyre says: we also have to consider the Shilluk Kingdom and the Red sea area, where tensions, and the Balkanisation of the country, are sadly all too evident. At the same time, as my hon. Friend rightly says, we have to pump in humanitarian aid, not just as a Government but as individuals.

2.41 pm
Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North) (Lab)

I, too, pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Dawson) for the way in which he secured the debate and has led the all-party group on Sudan. As he rightly says, the pictures that have horrified the entire world in recent weeks have been of a humanitarian disaster, but underlying and causing that is an acute political problem. I am pleased that my hon. Friend the Minister with responsibility for Africa is responding to this debate, because I think that he can give some assurances on the political points. They are the ones on which we will need progress if there is to be a long-standing solution to the problems in Sudan.

Quite often, we can remedy the immediate humanitarian disasters, and the country will stagger on, although the real problems that underlie what has happened have not been resolved. We have to make absolutely sure that our sympathy for, and response to, the plight of the victims of the crisis in western Darfur does not detract from a determined search for a political settlement.

Everyone present here and at previous debates on the subject is clear that the particular problem underlying what has happened in western Darfur is the attitude and activities of the Sudanese Government. There is also the difficulty of the long-running civil war in Sudan, which is the longest running in the world. If we think about it, the current generation in Sudan is probably the last that can remember a time when the country was at peace. If it does not seize the opportunity to restore some kind of peace, there will be a generation that has never known a country with any stability.

I went to Sudan shortly before the all-party group visited, and had quite a different experience—although we probably came to similar conclusions—because I came from the south after travelling around some other east African countries. I spent a lot of time with people from the SPLM, and saw and heard about a lot of problems similar in type to those in Darfur, although they were on a much smaller scale. I also saw the continuing humanitarian problems in the south, which are getting worse because of the lack of peace, stability and a political process that will enable reconstruction and development.

Our country had a historical role in Sudan, and we therefore bear a heavy burden of responsibility for support in the current troubles. I pay tribute to the Government for being at the forefront, both in providing humanitarian aid and in their political involvement in the peace process. I want to make a couple of suggestions on what my hon. Friend the Minister could do to take that forward.

I very much hope that my hon. Friend and the Government will continue to provide a high level of support to Sudan to make sure that the peace holds. That refers partly to the provision of aid. It is not just humanitarian aid; it is transitional aid to support the peace process. I saw a country that had gone backwards and that was in a state of complete devastation; I do not think that I saw a single stone-built house during the whole time that I was there. I also did not see a single drop of tarmac. People were ploughing the fields with little hand hoes. I bought one in a market and brought it back. The agricultural revolution has been the introduction of a few ox ploughs.

In the middle of all that, some very able people, including some very able women, were preparing plans for what will happen once peace is established. They desperately need training, support and capacity building now, so that as the peace process proceeds they can start to put things in place. Although I understand that there are issues to do with providing development aid when there is conflict, the time has now come to move on from that. I ask the Minister to consider providing transitional aid and—perhaps more importantly— political support in order to regain the momentum in the peace process, and to ensure that that turns into proper peace programmes, so that the country can find a way out of what seems to be an increasingly fractured situation.

Colleagues have asked the Minister to ensure that there is proper monitoring of the peace. I also ask him to do that; it would be helpful if he set out how that would be done. Whoever provides that, it must be effective and properly resourced. I heard good reports from the south about the high regard in which the monitoring in the Nuba mountains was held. The monitoring needs to be not just north-south but east-west, in places such as the Shilluk kingdom and other areas where there have been profound difficulties. People need to feel a sense of security if they are to return home and do simple things such as planting crops. They must feel some confidence that they will be there to harvest and store their crops.

I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister will tightly hold the Sudanese Government to the agreements that they have made about the way that they will behave in western Darfur. When I raised issues about western Darfur in southern Sudan, people said, "Well, that is the way that the Government behave." There was a profound sense of mistrust and insecurity. It has taken quite some time for the Sudanese Government to acknowledge their role in what has happened, and it is important that they are not allowed off the hook as the weeks pass. I hope that my hon. Friend will give some assurances about that.

I saw horrifying things when I was in Sudan, although I did not see quite the scale of things that colleagues saw in western Darfur. My hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Wyre gave eloquent voice to some of the hardships that people have suffered. As we are politicians, we understand the relationship between politics and humanitarian difficulties, and I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will give assurances about securing a peace process that is political and that delivers real and lasting peace to people in Sudan so that they can rebuild their lives and their country.

2.49 pm
Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD)

I am happy to follow the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Ms Keeble). She made a measured contribution. I congratulate the chairman of the all-party group on Sudan, the hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Dawson), on keeping the focus on this issue both inside and outside this Chamber, and on piling the pressure on us as individuals about what we can do and on our Government and the international community. We need to keep the focus on Sudan and Darfur as the humanitarian crisis worsens.

Other Members also made valuable contributions. My hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge) raised the issue of climate change and desertification, which others have not mentioned. She highlighted the fact that even if the conflict were not taking place, we would have to tackle that substantial issue, for which we bear a degree of responsibility because of the pollution that we are creating.

It was appropriate that the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) should have reminded us of the SLA's responsibility for ensuring that access is provided to the areas that it controls; parties other than the Sudanese and the Janjaweed are involved as well. I thank the Minister and his colleagues for making the additional funding available for Sudan—that is welcome, timely and appropriate. Members were right to draw attention to the launch of the appeal, which is now under way.

Certain people have characterised the Government's policy on Sudan as one of quiet diplomacy. Does the Minister think that a fair description? Perhaps the quiet diplomacy has been for public consumption, but I hope that behind the scenes there has been some loud and not so tactful diplomacy with the Sudanese Government. Regrettably, whether there has been quiet diplomacy or something much more vocal, the humanitarian crisis seems to be worsening and deepening in Darfur. Many leading commentators are now referring to genocide, although that may be a simplistic way of encapsulating the situation. I understand that the US Congress may be debating this matter at this very moment. It will come to some conclusions, during the next few hours or days, on whether genocide is taking place.

Many parties, including the Liberal Democrats, have called for a tough Security Council resolution that would include sanctions in Sudan if there were no immediate improvement in the situation. I stress that the improvement should be immediate, because if ethnic cleansing is going on—and the satellite photographs suggest that it is—leaving it for a few more days is hardly an option: the ethnic cleansing might then be complete and the Sudanese Government or the Janjaweed might get their way. If the Government are not willing to go public on supporting a much tougher resolution, what further measures are they considering? The Secretary of State for International Development said on 14 July that we shall have to return to the Security Council to take further measures"—[Official Report, 14 July 2004; Vol. 423, c. 1394.] When he sums up, will the Minister set out precisely what further measures the Government have in mind if there is no immediate progress?

It is regrettable that Darfur has not been included in the peace process. When we debated this issue on 9 June, the Minister stated that the Government's position was to ensure that the catastrophe in Darfur does not destabilise all the good work that has been done in the past couple of years to achieve a settlement between the north and the south."—[Official Report. Westminster Hall, 9 June 2004; Vol. 422, c. 88WH.] Nobody would want to jeopardise the peace process between the north and the south. However, separating the two—allowing the peace process to progress but the ethnic cleansing to proceed in Darfur—has perhaps been a mistake.

I want to ask the Minister a specific question. Given that the situation in Darfur is worsening and that there is growing evidence of the Sudan Government's involvement in supporting the Janjaweed and in carrying out a policy of ethnic cleansing, does he believe that any peace can be achieved in Sudan if all areas of conflict are not included in the negotiations? Has the Minister had time to look at the Human Rights Watch report that came out yesterday? It says that it has in its possession official Sudanese Government and local government documents, dating principally from February and March, that clearly set out the Sudanese Government's policy, or at least the measures that the Sudanese Government intend to be taken on the ground. They relate to including the Janjaweed in some of the security committees and facilitating the return of some displaced persons to their original homeland and blocking the return of others. A strong body of evidence suggests that we cannot take at face value anything that the Sudanese Government say about their intentions, because back in February and March their intentions in relation to the activities of the Janjaweed were made clear in those documents. I hope that the Minister will comment on that.

Other Members have commented on the level of monitoring and the number of staff on the ground. There are something like 60 UN monitors and 300 peacekeepers from the African Union. Does the Minister consider that to be sufficient? Does he think that there is a case for a much larger presence and for human rights monitors to be dispatched to the region? If he does not think that that action should be taken immediately—in the next 24 hours or the next seven days—is anything being done to set things in motion should that become a necessity in the next few days or weeks?

The Government have made the welcome announcement of additional aid to the region. Although it is not part of the Minister's brief, I hope he will be able to say what safeguards are in place to ensure that that aid arrives in the right place and is not diverted. Perhaps there should be some conditionality between delivering the aid and delivering on the peace agreement.

Does the Minister think that there is a role for the UK in preparing a contingent of peacekeepers and monitors to be deployed if it is decided that genocide is taking place? It would not necessarily be for immediate deployment, but the planning involved in such measures takes weeks, months or possibly longer. What efforts are being made now? Is dialogue taking place with other European Union or NATO countries, or in any other forum, on that option?

The final issue that I would like to raise is oil. Looking at diagrams of the concessions in the Darfur area, it appears that there is significant potential for oil production. For instance, the Chinese National Petroleum Corporation has a substantial concession in southern Darfur. To what extent does the Minister believe that oil revenue considerations are playing a part in what is happening in Darfur?

The progress that has been made so far on the peace process is welcome. Its applicability so far to the Darfur region, however, is in doubt. I urge the Minister to continue to exert any pressure that he can from our Government in any international forums to make the Sudanese Government, and the other offending parties in this crisis, aware that the international community will not stand by and watch what is happening without taking appropriate action, which could involve military action if there is no resolution.

2.49 pm
Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con)

Thank you, Dame Marion, and congratulations on your recent and deserved recognition. I join other colleagues in congratulating the hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Dawson) on securing this debate, on presenting his and, to an extent, our findings with such eloquence, and on leading our delegation to Sudan with skill, charm and unfailing good humour. He will accept that he was assisted enormously by one person who has not been mentioned, but should be, and that is the co-ordinator of the all-party group on Sudan, Sultana Begum. She did a magnificent job; there was a thoroughly convivial spirit for virtually all the visit and it was an extremely worthwhile exercise.

Briefly, I would like to say something about the north-south accord and its prospects, and then focus my remarks on Darfur before hearing the Minister. The north-south accord is of course vital. Of course we attach importance to it and of course we are investing an element of hope in it because we know that without that process, disaster for the whole of Sudan is the alternative. That said, and an investment of hope though we have placed in it, there are real concerns about the fragility of the process.

I would like to ask the Minister what assessment he has made of the threat all the way along the line to the implementation of the north-south peace process as a consequence of those elements in Khartoum which are frankly opposed to the peace deal altogether; and what assessment he has made of the additional factor of policy incoherence and a lack of capacity on the part of the SPLM/SPLA. Does he share the concern that militias will continue from time to time to be used by elements of the ruling party to undermine cohesion in southern Sudan, especially around the oilfields? If he does share that concern, will he provide some idea of how the Government intend to address the issue?

I would like to focus on the situation in Darfur, where several colleagues spent two days. The plight of people existing—I will not say "living"—in IDP camps in Darfur was probably more harrowing a sight than any I have witnessed in my adult life. There are 1 million people so displaced, but when one sees the people concerned one realises that they are existing in pathetic little shacks held together variously by pieces of stick, string or feeble plastic. As I think the hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre said, those tents or shacks are commonly the size, in terms of length and breadth, of only a modest coffee table, and they are not very high either. It was common for us to see eight people in a paltry shack, of whom five or six would be children.

In the course of the visit, the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) regularly drew our attention to the fact that there was a proliferation of families headed by females. There would be no male in the family, as he had been killed, was engaged in conflict or was elsewhere displaced, and one saw women in the most desperate circumstances seeking to keep body and soul together.

In essence, there are two major features of the process, insofar as public policy is concerned: the humanitarian response of civilised and concerned Governments, and the foreign policy response. On the subject of humanitarian responsibility and commitment, I will continue the non-partisan approach that I have adopted hitherto and say that the Government's humanitarian record is very good. I congratulate the Secretary of State for International Development on that today as I have done on previous occasions.

The British Government can hold their head high and be proud of the fact that they are the largest cash contributor in humanitarian terms and, after the United States, the second largest overall contributor. Good work is being done and, according to eyewitness accounts, humanitarian aid was starting to get through to the people who needed it. Food and some modicum of primary health care were being provided, and enormous credit is due to the NGOs for facilitating that effort.

On the humanitarian front, the problems are as follows: first, other Governments are ready and willing to explain at length why they are not doing more than they are doing—by implication, pointing to areas of the world where they are doing more than we are doing. I find that explanation, given by many EU ambassadors, singularly unpersuasive. In particular, the otherwise engaging and eloquent French ambassador was especially irritating on that front, talking about countries to which the French are contributing.

My response to that is that I am not interested. The crisis in Sudan is there, the challenge is now, the scale is enormous and the contribution that we can make as an international community by providing the aid in a spot that probably exceeds anywhere else in the world in the scale and immediacy of its need is so great that talking about other places is not good enough.

Ms Keeble

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that in Sudan, uniquely, aid is extremely expensive? Food that costs $200 a tonne to buy costs $1,000 a tonne by the time it is transported because the logistics of providing aid in Sudan are so complex, so there is a real need for volumes of aid and money.

Mr. Bercow

Certainly, volumes of aid and volumes of money are of the essence. That is part of the first aspect of the humanitarian deficit to which I alluded a moment ago. I said that there were two categories of problem. The first category is inadequacy of resource. The second is a logistical obstacle to the delivery of the aid. We continually hear reports—since I returned from Sudan I have seen others on UN and other websites—of local authorities that continue to demand travel permits despite the international commitment that the Government of Sudan have made to facilitate NGO access and delivery of humanitarian aid.

In addition, there is a genuine anxiety about Khartoum's 90-day registration plan, which makes many NGOs reluctant to increase the size of their asset bases in Darfur for the simple and understandable reason that they have no idea whether those permits will be renewed in due course. If anybody thinks that the humanitarian crisis will be significantly alleviated, let alone resolved, within 90 days, then they are, frankly, in need of medical attention. There is not the slightest prospect of that happening. That is why I am so concerned.

Let us talk about the foreign policy side of the equation. We are blessed—I say that sincerely—by the presence of a Foreign Office Minister. I understand exactly where the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge) is coming from on the subject. I think that because we are both humanitarians, we would both be inclined, when push comes to shove, to continue with humanitarian aid—even while recognising the downside of simply propping up a regime or slowing the process of death—because the alternative is even worse.

I understand why the hon. Lady has regularly made the point that aid is nothing like enough, and that it is self-delusory to suppose that it is anything like enough simply to chuck aid at a situation that is exacerbated and compounded not by natural disaster but by man-made design. That is what has happened in Darfur, in particular, and across Sudan.

In essence, one must decide whether one believes that quiet diplomacy—I pick up on what was said by the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake)—or remorseless pressure is the best means by which to achieve progress in Sudan and, in particular, in Darfur. Of course that simplifies the argument, but the fact that there is complexity in Sudan, including in Darfur—the fact that it is not a straightforward Arab versus black African conflict—does not in any way absolve us of responsibility from trying to reach an overall judgment about the approach that is likely to be most productive.

I put it to the Minister that—I say this on the strength of my visit—pressure, pressure and more pressure on the Government of Sudan seems to be of the essence, both if we are to get commitments from the Government to behave themselves and if those commitments are to be monitored and fulfilled.

I remember meeting Minister Ismail, the Foreign Minister, who is generally regarded as something of a dove in that regime. As is often the case with Foreign Ministers, he is charged with the responsibility of making the Government's case in the international media. Of course, he was engaging and articulate and had responses to our inquiries—he would be an extraordinarily ineffectual Minister otherwise. That said, I found his arguments unpersuasive. He spent several minutes complaining to us about the BBC's representation of his Government's policy. His comments were thoroughly uninteresting, unpersuasive and typical of a Government on the run, making a patchy attempt to defend a not very good record.

The Sudanese Foreign Minister also spent a considerable amount of time telling us that his Government would simply walk away if the pressure became too great. In case that argument is still prominent in the counsels of the Foreign Office, I want to make the argument to the contrary. If the Government of Sudan were to be dissuaded from pursuing the north-south peace agreement simply because they were subjected to heavy pressure over Darfur, they cannot have much of a commitment to the peace process.

The international community cannot allow itself to be bullied into not taking a robust approach to the Government of Sudan on the grounds that, if we do, the modicum of progress that has been made will somehow be discontinued or suspended. We must be prepared to look the Sudanese Government in the eye and say that there is a carrot for their country—the provision of decent development assistance over a period to foster the peace process and to reconstruct the country—but that the international community is entitled to insist on vastly better behaviour.

We need a much more robust United Nations Security Council resolution. As the Minister knows, that is what the United States Administration, Secretary of State Colin Powell and others favour. The resolution must unequivocally condemn the Government of Sudan for the horrific human rights violations that have taken place in Darfur. It must insist that those human rights violations be independently, publicly and internationally investigated, that a guarantee be given—there was grave doubt in my mind about this when we visited Darfur—that people in the IDP camps will not be obliged to go home until the region is secure and it is safe for them to do so, and that the Government of Sudan will do all that they reasonably can to disarm the Janjaweed and other militias that are killing, threatening, raping and otherwise abusing the human rights of the civilian population.

We have a choice: do we take an approach of quiet but weary resignation or one of up-front and dynamic representation of what we believe to be right? I am an admirer of a humanitarian and activist foreign policy. We are debating Sudan and Darfur, and I will not in any way be deflected from that subject. I know that I will get into trouble with you, Dame Marion, if I do. Suffice it to say that I am one of those who greatly admires the Prime Minister's stance on Iraq. I wish to take this opportunity to say that the Government must be prepared to do all that they can, within the United Nations, to intensify pressure for change. If that means indicating that, without change, a robust sanctions policy that does not operate to the detriment of the population but is deliberately and calculatedly targeted at those who are preventing progress will be applied to the Government of Sudan, so be it. If that means considering deployment of a UN protection force as a last resort, so be it. If that means contemplating a much more forceful approach than has been deployed so far, so be it. We cannot allow a situation in which, over a period of months, hundreds of thousands of people die who would not die if there were a definite peace, an adequacy of human rights monitors, a proper supply of ceasefire monitors and a disarming of the militias.

Mr. Dawson

I admire the hon. Gentleman's passion and commitment. Is he concerned that in advocating that stance he may play into the hands of groups such as the SLA, which would like to escalate the situation further?

Mr. Bercow

I have no desire to do that, as the hon. Gentleman knows. I am not saying that we are at the point at which military action should be taken, because there are problems with that, but it should not be ruled out.

I conclude by urging the Minister to press the Government of Sudan on one specific indicator of good faith: the inquiry into the commission of human rights abuses by Government bombing on the one hand and collaboration with Janjaweed militia on the other. If we do not press for a clear commitment of independent scrutiny on that front, we cannot hope for the wider progress that we need to see and that the people of Darfur deserve.

3.16 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Chris Mullin)

We have had a constructive and useful debate. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Dawson) for giving us the opportunity to discuss this important issue and for the measured tones in which he introduced the debate. I thought that the debate was all the better informed for the fact that about four or five hon. Members present have first-hand experience. I shall deal briefly with some of the points raised—I was asked a large number of questions, not all of which I shall have time to respond to—and then set out what I want to put on the record.

Several hon. Members asked about African Union peace monitors and the example of the Nuba mountains was mentioned. The British monitor, Mr. Rob Symonds, who is now with the AU in Darfur, helped to set up the joint monitoring commission in the Nuba mountains, so he has a lot of experience and will be able to bring some of it to bear in Darfur.

I was asked by the hon. Members for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) and for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) whether the Government's policy was one of quiet diplomacy. It is not. No casual observer of our pronouncements and activities over the past six months could think that our policy is confined to quiet diplomacy. We have made representations in public and private to all the parties at all levels of the Sudanese Government. I shall take the opportunity to say something about that again in a minute.

One or two hon. Members touched on the role of the Sudan Liberation Army, and they were right to draw attention to that, because it is sometimes overlooked. The SLA is a major player and has been attacking food convoys, taking hostages and stealing vehicles, even as the humanitarian operation has got under way. Its role should not be overlooked, although inevitably we have to focus on the role of the Government of Sudan.

My hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Ms Keeble) said that in the end there must be a political solution and that it is not just a humanitarian issue. I entirely subscribe to that. We shall certainly do all that we can to bring the parties to the conference table. Talking of that, my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) said that the SLA was complaining that it had had difficulty getting the Eritrean passports of its members acknowledged. That is the first that we have heard of that issue. We have been doing all that we can to encourage the SLA to make its demands at the conference table rather than as a precondition to going to the conference table. It has raised a number of points with us but not that one, and I note it with interest.

My hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Wyre and others have been gracious in mentioning the role of the UK. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Buckingham for saying that we can hold our heads up high. None of us wants to be complacent; we all know that nobody has done enough or was on the scene early enough, but we have done more than most. We can, as the hon. Gentleman said, in the global scheme of things, hold our heads up high.

We have played a leading part in trying to resolve the crisis. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development visited Sudan, including Darfur, in June; the Foreign Secretary has had conversations with the Sudanese Foreign Minister, the most recent of which was on 12 July; our ambassador in Khartoum, Mr. William Patey, has for a long time been making daily representations to the Sudanese Government at all levels on all the issues that we would wish him to raise—both political and humanitarian; the UK special representative, Alan Goulty, who has just returned from the region, had a meeting with President Bashir very recently; and I have had two long conversations with the Sudanese Foreign Minister, most recently at the African Union summit in Addis Ababa the week before last.

The United Nations Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, and the US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, both visited Sudan at the end of June, and during those visits the Sudanese Government made a number of commitments to improve the security situation and humanitarian access. They agreed to deploy more police to Darfur, to disarm the Janjaweed, to resume political talks, and to remove all obstacles on visas for NGOs. There are signs that they are—albeit belatedly—taking steps to honour those commitments. We have been pleased to see improvements in humanitarian access and the fast- tracking of visa applications for NGOs. Sudan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs has instructed its embassies to facilitate visas for NGO staff for Darfur within 48 hours of application and to exempt them from all fees, and foreign aid workers in Darfur are now exempted from restrictions on movements of foreigners.

On the security situation, the Sudanese Government have announced the deployment of an additional 6,000 police from outside Darfur, and claim to have arrested 40 or so Janjaweed and begun the disarmament process. The UN has reported that some police have started to arrive in Nyala, el-Fashir and el-Geneina, and that there has been some limited removal of militias from areas around IDP camps in el-Fashir.

Together with the US and our EU partners, we have made it very clear that UN Security Council action will be needed if the Government of Sudan do not honour the commitments that they have given—so the international community will continue to monitor the situation closely in the coming days. Meanwhile, discussion of the US draft Security Council resolution and of the possibility of targeted sanctions continues. Given the urgency of the crisis—

Tom Brake

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Mullin

If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I have been asked to deal with a lot of points, and I think that other hon. Members would like me to put on record the Government's position.

Given the urgency of the crisis, it will, of course, be crucial to ensure that any Security Council action has a quick and positive impact on the ground. It is also important to ensure a balanced approach to the problem, as violations of the ceasefire continue on all sides. There are some signs that Janjaweed activity may be decreasing, but it is too soon to conclude that that is a genuine trend. In any case, rebel activity continues.

We consider the full deployment of the AU-led ceasefire commission to be key to improving the security situation. The deployment of ceasefire monitors in the Nuba mountains has, as hon. Members have observed, had a positive effect on the situation there, and we hope that the deployment of the AU monitors in Darfur will have a similar effect. As hon. Members may know, we have contributed £2 million to the initial setting-up costs of the AU monitors and the EU is making available €12 million.

It is early days, but more than 60 monitors and staff are in place in Darfur, and others are based in Chad and Khartoum; the UK monitor, Mr. Rob Symonds, arrived in el-Fashir last weekend. The AU plans to expand its presence next to el-Geneina and Kebkabiya. It has two helicopters in Darfur, and a third is on its way. Forty-nine vehicles are being fitted out in Khartoum before being flown to Darfur. Further aircraft are expected shortly. Access to fuel is problematic in such a remote area, and that is being addressed. The AU is also working on force protection arrangements and plans to deploy between 200 and 300 men for that purpose. The AU is already operational. Several investigations have taken place and we will take a close interest in the results of those.

Given our concerns about civilian protection and the human rights situation, we are also in close contact with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. As hon. Members have said, there have been massive human rights violations by the Sudanese Government and the Janjaweed militia, which may constitute war crimes or crimes against humanity. The report speaks of forced displacement, the arbitrary killing of civilians and rape. It is deeply disturbing, as is the recent report from Amnesty International. We and our EU partners have made it clear that reported attacks against civilians should be thoroughly investigated and the perpetrators brought to justice. We are also supporting the deployment of UN human rights monitors.

On the humanitarian situation, there has been significant progress on access and Sudanese Government procedures, although some constraints remain. The UN is now accessing some SLA areas for the first time. In all areas, small pockets of internally displaced people have been found. Disease is a growing concern throughout the region; as the rains have started, there is much to do and very little time.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development announced on 13 July that DFID was setting aside a further £28 million for the remainder of this financial year. That brings the total UK humanitarian assistance for Darfur to £62.5 million, which, as hon. Members have said, makes the UK the second largest bilateral donor—after the US—and the largest cash donor to the crisis. The size of that response highlights the UK's commitment to Darfur and to Sudan as a whole. However, the UN is still reporting a funding gap of $140 million. We continue to press other donor Governments, including our EU partners, to increase their contributions.

We are in close contact with the UN as well as NGOs on the ground. The focus must now be on building capacity. The UN is almost halfway through its 90-day action plan and it is continuing to scale up its operations. As my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North said, only by addressing the underlying causes of the conflict will a sustainable solution be found. The political talks that got under way in Addis on 15 July concluded two days later having made little progress. The rebels set a number of preconditions before they would enter into a substantive dialogue and we are encouraging them to make their demands at the negotiating table and not outside it.

The peace agreement that emerges from Naivasha offers the best hope for the whole country. By offering the prospect of a truly decentralised federal system, it should help to address some of the root causes of the conflict in Darfur and elsewhere. Clearly, there can be no comprehensive peace in Sudan without a resolution to the crisis in Darfur, but with the peace talks at Naivasha at a critical stage, the international community must continue to push hard for progress on both issues in parallel—in particular on implementation, which someone asked me about a moment ago. We assess that there is the political will on both sides—north and south—to make the agreement work, but we recognise that it will require very detailed international pressure.

In the brief time available, I have tried to put on record what the Government are trying to do to deal with what we all acknowledge to be one of the worst humanitarian crises of recent times.

Mr. Dawson

I want to stress the importance of engaging other groups and organisations and civil society in that peace process. At meetings in London and certainly in Sudan, the fear that groups are becoming more and more alienated has come over loudly and clearly. We certainly do not want more groups to take up the armed conflict route that the SLA has followed.

Mr. Mullin

My hon. Friend makes a very powerful point.