HC Deb 09 June 2004 vol 422 cc69-91WH

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—[Charlotte Atkins.]

9.30 am
Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby) (Con)

I welcome this opportunity to raise the subject of the humanitarian crisis in Darfur. I also welcome the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin). I think that he has been drafted in at quite short notice, so I sympathise with him. I know, however, that he has long taken an interest in human rights issues, which are among the most important in Darfur at the moment.

I regret that the Secretary of State for International Development is unable to be here, although he wanted to be, and his attendance at Westminster Hall debates is extremely good. He is likely to make a statement later today on the situation in Darfur, and I look forward to that. The importance of the crisis has been highlighted by, among other things, the coverage that it has recently received on the BBC and in other media outlets. It is rightly described as possibly the most serious humanitarian crisis in the world at the moment. I should add that I have not come to attack the UK Government—the Department for International Development is the second biggest donor in Darfur after the United States.

I have not been to Darfur, although I may be going at the end of the month. After my speech today, however, I may not be especially welcome. I went to Sudan a couple of years ago with members of the all-party group on Sudan, and I see my three companions here today, including the chairman of the all-party group, the hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Dawson).

I want briefly to discuss the history of Sudan before considering the situation in Darfur, how responsibility can be apportioned and what, if anything, the UK Government and the international community can do.

Geographically, Sudan is the biggest country in Africa; it is the most enormous place, and Darfur is something like the size of France. Sudan is also grindingly poor, and I have memories of that from two years ago. There is poverty not only in the rebel south, where people have absolutely nothing, but elsewhere, and we saw people around El-Obeid who had next to nothing. So, it is not just the rebels who are poor—everybody is poor. However, the Government did not seem especially interested in furthering the good of the people in Sudan, other than in Khartoum.

Sudan was always a backward place. Parts of it, particularly the north, were colonised by the Egyptians, while in the south, Arab slave-raiding parties would seize slaves. That is pertinent because it reflects on attitudes today.

People in Britain tend to know about Gordon of Khartoum and his historic death in 1885, and about the Kitchener expedition of 1898, which was much popularised. Indeed, Winston Churchill took part in a marvellous cavalry charge, which he describes so well in his books. There then followed the Anglo-Egyptian condominium and the Sudan political service. My godfather worked in the service immediately after the war, and it was well described by Wilfred Thesiger. It was an honest and honourable profession, although it must be said that Sudan did not develop enormously as a result of its work.

Independence came in 1956. Civil war has raged on and off since then and has claimed the lives of perhaps millions of people, although I am delighted to say that a peace agreement was signed on 26 May in Naivasha. I shall say a bit more about that later. In 1989, the National Islamic Front, which now forms the Government, seized power under Brigadier al-Bashir, who is now a lieutenant-general. Nobody ever claimed that the Government had any democratic legitimacy, although, of course, they have de facto legitimacy.

One must understand a point to which I alluded earlier. To use shorthand, there is an Arab ethnic grouping in the north. It is not a distinct grouping, but it is more Arab. In the south and west, the ethnic grouping is more black African. That is extremely important because of how people see things in Sudan. Sharia—Muslim law—is also an issue, but not in Darfur, because it is Muslim. However, it was certainly an issue for Christians and animists in the south.

In Darfur, there are perhaps 1.2 million displaced people and refugees, although no one is quite sure. There are 100,000—perhaps more—refugees in Chad, across the border. Estimates vary but about 30,000 people have been killed in Darfur in the last year, and there is no doubt that it is a huge humanitarian crisis. A report from Oxfam, quoted by my local paper, theLeicester Mercury, on Saturday, described refugees fleeing the conflict, who had abandoned their homes, their possessions and their livelihoods, clinging on to the hope of finding somewhere safe…Even if they get to the refugee camps, the situation is little better. Malnutrition and diarrhoea are spreading quickly and mortality rates climbing steadily…Eastern Chad is…on the brink of disaster". Humanitarian agencies have warned of the risk of famine in the displaced population, unable to return home to plant crops before the rainy season. The rainy season is starting now; the displaced people are not returning. A United States Agency for International Development administrator stated in Geneva on 3 June: We estimate right now if we get relief in we will lose a third of a million people. And if we don't, the death rates could be dramatically higher, approaching a million people. Delay in taking action is not an option.

It is difficult to estimate the number of fatalities that can come from such a ghastly crisis, and such estimates tend to be wildly wrong. The message that comes through, however, is that there is a terrible crisis and action needs to be taken. The situation should be taken in the context of the much heralded—by the Sudanese Government—peace deal in Naivasha at the end of last month.

To digress slightly, what about upper Nile? Not included in the peace agreement—and not, of course, in Darfur—is the Shilluk kingdom. I have a briefing from World Vision, which states that in upper Nile, since early March 2004…between 50,000 and 120,000 men, women and children were displaced by a series of militia attacks… Humanitarian personnel cannot access the area…the Sudan Civilian Protection Monitoring Team documented the wholesale destruction of…villages…The compounds of World Vision and another German NGO…were destroyed and looted. We do not know what is happening there, but it gives greater context to what is happening in Darfur.

In Khartoum, there is what is best described as a political elite. It tends to be almost exclusively of Arab extraction and to look down its nose at the black Africans. The National Islamic Front of President alBashir is now called the National Congress party, but it has roots through the National Islamic Front back to the Muslim Brotherhood, which sprang up in Egypt. I have already mentioned that it has no democratic legitimacy, but I would like to turn to its honesty.

In April or perhaps earlier, the Sudanese Foreign Minister, Dr. Mustafa Ismail, came to a meeting, which was attended by at least two Members present in the Chamber. He talked vividly about Darfur, because we asked him about it. He said that only a few hundred had been killed and that the Government of Sudan were definitely not supporting the militia in Darfur—the Janjaweed. I recall particularly, because I took the issue up with him, that he blamed the European Union for not giving sufficient development aid. He also blamed President Clinton. I blame President Clinton for many things, but he blamed him for encouraging rebel movements in Sudan.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights concluded its report of 7 May with the statement: It is clear that there is a reign of terror in Darfur…The current pattern of massive and gross human rights violations…raises very serious concerns as to their survival, security and human dignity". That means the survival, security and human dignity of those who have remained in Darfur. The report said that the situation was characterised by repeated attacks on civilians by the military forces of the Government of the Sudan and its proxy militia", particularly the Janjaweed; the use of disproportionate force by government and Janjaweed forces"; total impunity for the Janjaweed, who operate in close coordination with the forces of the Government of the Sudan"; and a pattern of attacks on civilians includes killing, rape, pillage, including of livestock, and destruction of property, including water sources". Asma Jehangir, the UN rapporteur, echoes that on the BBC website in a story on the extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions. She says: the numbers are staggering, the situation is terrible…there is no accountability and in some areas the government officials are also in a state of complete denial. So what can we conclude about the Government of Sudan? I conclude that they do not tell the truth and are not to be trusted. They have form. Between 1991 and 1996, when they were still the National Islamic Front, they played host to a fellow called Osama bin Laden. According to reports, al-Qaeda forged an alliance with al-Bashir's Government. Osama bin Laden was expelled from Sudan in 1996, but in 1998, President Clinton launched cruise missiles against a couple of targets in Sudan, one of which was the al-Shifa chemical factory. We should remember that President Clinton was not a great man for sending cruise missiles, but it appears that those missiles were designed to hit al-Qaeda, which was believed to be present at the targets. I did not appreciate that at the time, because none of us knew very much about al-Qaeda.

Since 11 September 2001, the start of the war on terror and the invasion of Afghanistan, the Government of Sudan have become a great deal friendlier and more pliable, and we may draw our own conclusions as to why that may be. However, they are still the same people. AlBashir is still the President, his elite group is still undemocratic and autocratic, and they are still on the US list of state sponsors of terrorism.

As I said, the Government of Sudan have form. I have in my hand "The scorched earth: oil and war in Sudan", a document published by Christian Aid in 2001. I will not talk at great length about it, except to say that the tactics employed, which are described in the booklet, are almost exactly the ones that are now being employed in Darfur. Leaving aside the issue of oil in Sudan, I particularly recall, when we were in Sudan two years ago, hearing about the train that ran down to Wau, which was in the south and surrounded by rebel areas. As the train ran down, armed Arab militia on horseback, fanning out to perhaps 20 km on either side of the track, would plunder, kill, rape, pillage, and take slaves—in the 21st century, for God's sake—as they proceeded down to Wau. As soon as the train withdrew, the rebels would blow up the track. It seems to me that what has happened now is exactly the same. In its report last month, the International Crisis Group said of Darfur: The situation mirrors the dynamic of other conflicts throughout Sudan, pitting a periphery that views itself as the victim of discrimination against a centre in Khartoum that is seen as holding all the economic and political cards. I do not intend to say much more, because many Members want to speak and, given the importance of the situation, they should be allowed to have as much say as they can. I will, however, say this: Darfur is a long way from us and is a little part of a country of which we know remarkably little, but it is the world's most serious humanitarian crisis and it will not go away.

So what can the international community and the UK Government do? First, we need to be less supine in what we say. The Secretary of State was extremely diplomatic on the radio on, I believe, Monday. I have been less diplomatic today. The Government of Sudan must take responsibility for what is happening in Sudan. We are contributing humanitarian aid, but Sudan needs yet more. The crisis will not go away for at least a year. We must pursue the matter at the UN, although I know that we are doing so to a certain extent. The Security Council noted the prolonged absence of an accredited resident humanitarian co-ordinator, which is a serious obstacle to international operations in Darfur. I hope that the Minister will tell us what is happening in that regard.

Will the Minister also tell us what has happened about the African Union monitoring force, which has been agreed? I know that the British Government have agreed to provide part of its funding; the rest must come from the European Union. Let us at least do that so that we can know what is happening. It is all very well to wring hands—people might say that I stand here wringing mine—but people are dying now, so this humanitarian crisis must be dealt with now. The crisis will go on for perhaps a year or more, but the long-term solution is political: to make the Government of Sudan accountable and to make them take responsibility for their actions and their people. I urge the UK Government to be bold and outspoken in what they say to the Government of Sudan, and to mobilise international concern so that pressure can be put on them for real change. I shall not elaborate on the sanctions or other actions that we might take, but this crisis needs reaction from the international community. I hope that the Minister can reassure me.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I remind the Chamber that it is customary to begin the first of the Front-Bench winding-up speeches 30 minutes before the end of the debate, namely at 10.30 am, so we have about 44 minutes in which to accommodate the five right hon. and hon. Members who seek my eye. I hope that they will take account of the time limitations when making their contributions and when accepting and responding to interventions.

9.46 am
Mr. Tom Clarke (Coatbridge and Chryston) (Lab)

I sincerely congratulate the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) on his wisdom, on securing this important debate and on his excellent introduction to it. I agreed with virtually everything that he said, except, perhaps, his final reference to the Secretary of State. That aside, his comments were timely and appropriate.

Mr. Robathan

I should not, perhaps, have used the word supine. I did not mean to criticise the Secretary of State except to say that he has been over-diplomatic.

Mr. Clarke

I am pleased to have allowed the hon. Gentleman to put that on the record because he made a first-class speech, and I have no desire to take away from that. It helped us all to remember what happened in Rwanda when, although there were signals of what would happen, even if they were not as profound or clear as those in Sudan, the international community was, to say the least, far too slow to respond. We cannot be excused from making a similar mistake in Sudan, given what we now know is happening there.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the recent peace agreement. In respect of the problems with the north and south, which have been occurring for about 50 years—certainly for the past 20—there was a great sigh of relief when the agreement was reached, and it is profoundly unacceptable that it should be terribly overshadowed by the appalling events in Darfur, in the west of Sudan, which have had an impact on Chad, when we all hoped that the carnage that had gone on for so long would end.

What does the agreement mean? Does Khartoum expect the international community to accept that huge areas of the country should not be part of the spirit of the agreement, as is happening in Darfur and next door in Chad? Is access to oil and power to be a matter only for those who were party to the agreement? Will a great mass of people, particularly those in the west, be totally ignored, or worse?

It would be a huge mistake for modern Khartoum to send out the message that inclusiveness in Sudan means that people have to have an army and guns before their human rights will be recognised. That cannot be acceptable. That is why we are right to be extremely angry. It would be wrong of Parliament and the international community, including the European Union, to wring our hands and wash our hands of the problem when we know that so much wrong is happening.

The media have a role as well. Reference has been made to the BBC, and ITN broadcast an interesting and compelling news bulletin on Monday evening that at least focused on the issue. Although I do not particularly want to congratulate the media—they could have done far more—there have been honourable exceptions. In an excellent piece inThe Guardian, Ewen MacAskill, the diplomatic editor, who incidentally reported on the Secretary of State's activities in Darfur, which he was observing, wrote: In what the United Nations describes as the world's worst humanitarian disaster, the arrival of the rains means that life for the refugees will become even more grim and the death toll will almost certainly rise. About 30,000 are estimated to have been killed in the last year, victims of a government-armed militia that has terrorised and destroyed villages throughout Darfur, where 1.2 million have been displaced, with a further 100,000 taking refuge in neighbouring Chad. Chillingly, he added: A UN official who has travelled extensively throughout the region said yesterday: 'If you go 1,000km from here to Chad you will not see a single village intact."' We know what is going on. There can now be no excuse for the record of the Janjaweed—the raiding for cattle, the raping and the other wholly unacceptable behaviour—which has been supported by the army high command, as is well known. The raids are perhaps now more sophisticated, if just as beastly and unacceptable. There are helicopters and gunships, villages razed to the ground, inhabitants murdered, irrigation systems destroyed and granaries burnt to the ground. We can call that ethnic cleansing or genocide; but, in the modern world, given our support for international organisations that are perhaps still capable of exercising more influence—I shall come to the role of the United Nations and its agencies—it is right to say what we are saying in this debate in the tone of disgust that the situation invites.

The hon. Member for Blaby referred to the role of aid agencies and non-governmental organisations. We agree that their contribution has been sterling, as is so often the case. We all want to take on board the advice that the Catholic Fund for Overseas Development, Human Rights Watch, the International Crisis Group and Save the Children have given. Save the Children, for example, has said that the international community should see protection of civilians as a priority, and that although there has been a reduction in hostilities between the parties to the agreement—people who, in my view, have an interest—there is no corresponding improvement in the security of civilians. Save the Children concludes that militia groups are carrying out a pattern of human rights abuses against a backdrop of impunity, and that it is time for us all to act. I know that my views are shared by hon. Members on both sides of the House, and I want the Government to exert the maximum possible pressure on the Government of Sudan because we know—there is no point in their denying it—about their influence on the militia and its distasteful activities.

There is strong support for the approach of the hon. Member for Blaby. Given the carnage, we are entitled to demand that non-governmental organisations seeking access should have the opportunity that he described. There should be a response to those who cry for food, water, medicine and trucks. It is outrageous that the Government of Sudan are even restricting the number of trucks that could be made available so that those people's needs can be met. The UN believes that only half the displaced population of 1 million has access to humanitarian assistance.

Let us continue the pressure on President al-Bashir. Let us continue the pressure on the United States, although I do not want to denigrate its influence and the time and thought that it has given to the issue. Our colleagues in the United Kingdom—I welcome the role of the Secretary of State for International Development—and the European Community Humanitarian Office have made substantial pledges of assistance to Chad and Darfur. Nevertheless, they are doing so when the UN is telling us that only 19 per cent. of the needs of Darfur have been met and only 45 per cent. of Chad's.

There are opportunities within the international bodies that I have mentioned, particularly this week of all weeks, in the European Union, for us to express not just our distaste for what is happening, not just our demand for an end to the carnage, and not just our hopes that the international aid agencies can get the access that they want, but our determination that all that will change and that such activities will never again take place. As the hon. Gentleman said, following their dreadful experiences, people have very little to look forward to—more rains, more starvation and more attacks from above. It may be difficult to reflect on the possibilities of long-term development, but even those people, in their dreadful situation, are entitled to dream. They are entitled to count on our support and I believe that that will be the view expressed in our debate today and by the Secretary of State later when he speaks on this crucial matter.

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

As a colleague of the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) on the Select Committee, I congratulate him on this debate. However, I have a terrible sense of déjà vu. The right hon. Member for Coatbridge and Chryston (Mr. Clarke) said "Never again," but how often have we said that? Only six years ago, in 1998, the Select Committee on International Development produced a report on the origins of the famine in Bahr el Ghazal and Sudan and how we dealt with it. Reading that report today, one thinks, "Here we go again. We could write precisely the same words and precisely the same criticisms now." I draw the House's attention to that report, which makes sad reading when one thinks that it was written six years ago. Yes, there were Moraleen, yes they came down to Wau on their trains and, yes, we called them Arab raiders—they fanned out, raided and pillaged and they took the women and the cattle. Exactly the same methods are being used in Darfur.

It is interesting to consider the problems that were highlighted then. One of the things that most concerned me was the early warning system. We felt that there had not been sufficient early warnings in the case of Bahr el Ghazal in 1997–98. There were even accusations levelled at the aid agencies that they had left it until they saw the pictures of starving little children on the television screens before launching their appeals. That has not happened this time—the warnings have been being sounded for a considerable time. The NGOs cannot be considered guilty in that respect.

We considered the problems of access for flights and the Government of Sudan banning flights by aid and humanitarian agencies over the area. Just the same has happened this time I understand that some of the bans have now been lifted, but it is something of which we were aware and that we knew would happen; it had been recorded before, yet somehow we did not manage to get round the problem.

We considered the problem of where the aid would come from. We must have stockpiles and aeroplanes. Operation Lifeline Sudan has been in operation for 20 or 25 years—perhaps the hon. Member for Blaby can remind me exactly how long. It had been going for at least 10 years before the famine in Bahr el Ghazal. It operates from Lokichokio in northern Kenya, which, I suspect, is much too far away to get to Darfur, but there must be bases in Chad. Perhaps the Minister can tell us from where we will distribute the desperately needed humanitarian aid to Darfur.

I remind Members that one of the conclusions of the 1998 report—the eighth summary point—was: Clare Short was quite right to be frustrated at a process which involved political indifference, ineffective and declining levels of humanitarian assistance, little prospect of longer term development, continuing conflict, and the prospect of millions starving to death. The same is true now.

We can all bemoan what is happening and say that something must be done and that it must never happen again, but we should consider the origins of the new disaster. If the Minister has time, I would like him to say something about the political background. The history of the peace process in southern Sudan has been that various factions have formed in the south, which for a long time made it difficult to know with whom to negotiate. Do the Minister or the Government think that there is any connection between any of those groups and the Sudan Liberation Army and the Justice and Equality Movement, which are now operating in Darfur and which formed less than two years ago when the all-party group was visiting? We met them and the SLA told us very proudly that they had just formed. It would be interesting to know where they came from, who organised them and who gave them the push.

I also wonder how many hours the Department for International Development has spent it and how many tonnes of paper it has produced over the years on prevention of conflict. Considering the situation, we should have been aware of what might happen. Everyone knows Sudan—Britain is an expert on it. We all know about the peace process and how difficult it has been. Who has been considering prevention of conflict in Darfur? From where have the arms dealers been getting their arms? Who has been considering that? Who has been trying to break the chain of dealers in death throughout the world who make sure that small and medium-sized arms get to rebel groups whenever they want them? When I was first in southern Sudan in 1998, I asked members of the Sudan People's Liberation Army where the dickens they got their arms. They fell about laughing and said, "We can get them from anywhere. It is no problem. Arms are the least of our problems." Who has been considering that while the peace process has been going on?

The human rights record of the Government of Sudan is appalling. They react to many things with state terrorism. That is a rather difficult subject sometimes because we have good friends among the great and famous democracies of the world who also employ state terrorism at times. We must not always criticise: we must not look at the mote in our brother's eye when we cannot see the beam in our own. State terrorism is practised all over the world, not just by the Government of Sudan.

We should also look to the future. As the hon. Member for Blaby pointed out, Sudan is a very big country that is almost ungovernable because its communications are so appalling, and many areas outside Khartoum are at a very early stage of development. Are we looking at those other regions? Who will organise rebels in the upper Nile region in the east of the country? What groups are forming and who is making sure that they have arms? Is anyone looking at that? Is the United Nations or anyone trying to help with those issues?

Perhaps we should look to the journalists, who are very fond of telling us about humanitarian disasters, scorched earth, and desolate villages I saw such villages in southern Sudan in 1998. Point 11 of the 1998 Select Committee report states: We urge journalists not only to report the starvation of Sudan but also to investigate, question and pursue the reasons for war and the possibilities for peace, as has been done, for example, in Bosnia. This has not as yet been properly done and reporting of the crisis in Sudan is to that extent sadly it adequate. The same is needed today. Journalises, please listen—go and talk to those other groups, do not concentrate solely on Darfur, look to the future.

Since 1998, I have been bleating about the only long-term solution for countries such as Sudan—development aid. In one sense, the Foreign Minister, whom we met a couple of weeks ago, was correct. We try to give humanitarian aid when it is needed, but such countries need development aid. Most of the time most of Sudan is not at war, so at the very least we could try to educate children. That will, in the long term, have a preventive effect if we can get gradually get in some development aid. Humanitarian aid is all very well, but I remember the previous Secretary of State saying that a lot of it went to the rebel groups. It was captured and used by them, and could even have prolonged the war. Development aid is needed. We must also consider debt relief for Sudan. If we can give Iraq debt relief when it has billions of dollars worth of oil in the ground, surely we can give it to Sudan, which has a lot less oil and is much further away from extracting it from the ground. We must examine the long-term development of that country.

I am reminded that I am still wearing a rather rough bracelet made out of cartridge cases. A woman in Bahr el Ghazal in southern Sudan gave it to me in 1998, and I was pledged to wear it until there was peace between the north and the south. A few weeks ago I was very optimistic about the prospect of being able to take it off—it makes a black mark on my arm and is not all that comfortable. However, I will have to leave it on for the people of Darfur: perhaps it will act as a lucky charm for them and eventually they will see peace. They need peace. The only way to obtain peace is for us to think ahead, to understand the causes of conflict in those areas and, most of all, to use development aid.

10.9 am

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

I am pleased to have the chance to take part in the debate. I congratulate the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan), who joined us on the last all-party visit to Sudan. I am sorry that he will not be with us in three weeks' time when we return. This is a timely debate, and I suspect that it will carry on in a few hours' time in the main Chamber.

It is essential to reflect on the enormous progress that has taken place in Sudan in recent years. Peace talks have proceeded slowly, but productively. Peace has come to a very large part of the country, and there have been effective monitoring mechanisms in problematic areas, such as the Nuba mountains. There have been fundamental, important agreements on a referendum, which will take place six or so years down the road, on power sharing, wealth sharing and smaller contentious issues relating to the application of sharia and the status of various parts of the country.

The current tragedy in Darfur can be seen as a symptom of the frustration of a number of groups that have been telling our Government and everyone in Sudan for a long time of their frustration at being excluded from the peace process. It is vital that that process draws to a conclusion so that what is called the pre-interim period can begin, wherein a range of groups from throughout the country can engage fully in discussion about the way forward and the way in which they will be involved in the country's future development.

That is the overall context, and in our despair about the current situation we should lose sight neither of that nor of the enormously constructive diplomatic role that this country played in the peace process. The other day I heard on the radio a programme featuring the Secretary of State, which implied that the Government had become aware of the situation in Sudan about two weeks ago. Hon. Members know that that is absolutely wrong. It is important to pay tribute to the work that has been done.

Many people have a responsibility in relation to this issue. The Government of Sudan have an enormous responsibility, as do the Sudan People's Liberation Movement and the Sudan People's Liberation Army, to draw peace talks quickly to a conclusion. The immediate problem is the desperate situation of thousands—possibly hundreds of thousands—who face death during the next few months as the rainy season takes hold. We are talking about people who are in internally displaced persons camps, who have run away from their homes, who have no shelter, security, food or health care, and who have nothing to sustain them in what will become increasingly appalling circumstances. There can be no excuse for the Sudanese Government's denying humanitarian access to those people.

On the other hand, there can be no excuse for all the nations of the world that have finally woken up to the desperate circumstances of the people of Darfur for not bringing to bear on the situation in Darfur all their resources, ingenuity, skill and international co-operation. Huge efforts have been made in Iraq; let us have a fraction of those efforts to save hundreds of thousands of lives in Sudan. There should be a UN Security Council resolution, and I believe that the United Nations should rise to the occasion and take a lead. It is good that our country and the United States have contributed so much already, but an international or a multinational effort is needed.

We must ensure that ceasefire monitors and police from the African Union are allowed to do their work. That work needs to be benchmarked, so that we are clear that the ceasefire is being monitored, but above all we need to ensure good access. This may be a question for the Secretary of State rather than the Minister, but has an estimate been made of how many people will be beyond access when the rains come? To how many can we gain access now in order to provide them with sustenance for the next few months? If we know that we will not be able to gain access over the next few months because of the rains, surely an international effort is needed now to get those people out of a situation that will lead to their deaths.

I do not see why, with all the resources that the world has at its disposal, we cannot locate everyone who needs our help and get them everything that they need to sustain themselves. If we cannot get to them before or during the rains, an international effort will clearly be needed to get them out, to give them support, and to try to stop people dying in the numbers envisaged.

There can be nothing more important than that the entire world deals with the situation now. We should not stand by, nor should we allow others to stand by and allow people to die on the scale envisaged. Once we have dealt with that situation, there may be a positive and effective impetus to move forward and ensure that the peace process in Sudan is completed. Once we are through the interim period, all concerned groups in the country will have to come together so that we can start to build towards elections in Sudan, and the crucial referendum in six months' time that will decide the future of the country.

10.18 am
Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington) (Lab)

I am glad to be able to take part in such an important debate. I congratulate the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) on initiating it.

There was a time, certainly within the lifetime of most of us in the Chamber, when many people of good will thought that the most serious problems facing Africa were caused by the activities of the west, with its western colonialism and western neo-imperialism. It is a tragedy that cannot be overstated that, long after the winds of political change swept across Africa, region after region became convulsed by intercommunal strife. One reason why the conscience of the world seems so hard to rouse on such occasions may be the spectacle of Africans killing Africans.

Today's debate is important not only because of the scale of the humanitarian tragedy that may yet engulf the region, which could be as big a tragedy as Rwanda, if not bigger, nor because not enough attention has been paid to the tragedy It is important because the situation in Sudan raises many general issues about Africa and international affair. For instance, it raises the question whether we need a more robust system of international law to encompass humanitarian intervention and a different mindset in the Security Council on international relations. I did not support the war in Iraq. Only with reluctance would I support western intervention in other parts of the world. But it is clear when we study Sudan and other issues that we need a more robust system of international law that would legitimise such interventions.

A further issue raised by the situation in Sudan is the rubble of the post-cold war world. Various factions in obscure parts of Africa were funded by different sides in the cold war. Once the cold war ended, we all congratulated ourselves on the collapse of the Berlin wall, but those armed and militarised factions continued to fight in Sudan and Somalia and across the region.

Another issue underlying the problems in Sudan is scarce resources. When examining the roots of intercommunal strife in Africa, one often finds that the situation is partly the result of the post-cold war situation but also partly the result of fighting for scarce resources.

Finally, having made so much in the international community of the need to intervene in Iraq for humanitarian reasons, will we stand by and allow another Rwanda in Sudan?

As has been said, from 1916 to 1956, Darfur was a backwater ruled by a handful of British officials, including the relatives of the hon. Member for Blaby. One root cause of the present crisis goes back to the 1980s, when prolonged droughts accelerated the desertification of northern and central Darfur and led to pressure on water and grazing resources as the camel nomads were forced to move southwards. Conflicts over wells and water that would in earlier times have been settled with spears or mediation are settled in the 21st century with guns. The situation was made much worse by the decision of Sadiq al-Mahdi, the Prime Minister in the mid-1980s, to give arms to the Arabic-speaking cattle nomads, leading to today's ethnic cleansing.

The ethnicisation of the conflict has grown rapidly since the military coup in 1989. Of course, one reason why the Khartoum Government are determined to retain control over the area is the possibility of an oil pipeline through Darfur. Once again, we come to one of the issues underlying intercommunal conflict all over the world.

Kofi Annan has said that the international community is prepared to take action on the situation in Sudan, meaning the continuum of steps that might include military action. Obviously, any such action would have to take place under the aegis of the Security Council, but the Security Council has discussed the crisis twice and declined to condemn the Khartoum Government. More focus on the issue is needed at the very highest levels.

I congratulate Her Majesty's Government, who are one of the biggest donors to Sudan and who, as has been pointed out, are not looking at the question only now but have been addressing it for some time. However, underlying issues are involved. Even if we avert the yet greater humanitarian crisis that may engulf the area, we as a Parliament must address those issues. What is the proper framework for humanitarian intervention? To what extent should the west take responsibility for the shambles left behind after the end of the cold war? As colleagues have said, the only way to stave off recurrent flare-ups of violence over scarce resources is by injecting development aid and considering the whole economic infrastructure of countries.

No one who cares about Africa and what it means to people of African descent all over the world can fail to be moved by the situation in Sudan. Sadly, that situation is replicated across the continent. I hope that Security Council and the Government can take action that may yet avert the impending tragedy, but I also hope that the Government will continue to play a part in addressing the underlying causes of the economic and political underdevelopment of the African continent.

10.24 am
Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co- op)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) on introducing the debate. We will miss him. If nothing else, we will miss his taking the opportunity to start sparring again with Vice-President Taha, which is something that will long stay in my memory, if not his.

I shall not cover ground that has already been covered. I believe that there is unanimity on the matter and that we all feel passionately about it. In a previous debate initiated by my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Dawson), who chairs the all-party group on Sudan, I made two points. The first was that it is a scandal that the world faired to see what was inevitable and predictable months ago. That has much to do with the fact that the eyes of the world have been fixed obsessively on Iraq. I did not support the intervention there, and I feel guilty for my fellow human beings who could not stretch their minds away from it into other parts of the world: Sudan, was desperate for intervention, although I do not mean military intervention.

My second point was well made by the hon. Members for Blaby and for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge): the Government of Sudan have form. Not much research is needed to find out what has been going on. Members of the all-party group are always indebted to the Sudan Organisation Against Torture for its excellent work, which has not been mentioned so far. The organisation clearly presents some of what goes oil behind the scenes. One has only partly to believe that the Government are responsible for torture, let alone the many other ills in that society.

As for the United Nations, we must not forget that the history in this context is not one that attracts glowing endorsement. I think in particular of the role of Libya when it was on the UN commission on human rights; it chaired the commission for part of that time, and it was then that the special rapporteur, Herbert Baum, was removed, much against his will. He was doing some excellent work in highlighting some of the problems that were occurring.

The usual argument was made at the UN: "It is none of your business." Libya made it clear that the matter was an internal, tribal dispute. If that was so, I hate to think how any other conflict would be defined. That attitude is unacceptable. If Libya is now part of the greater world, and we are engaged in a love-in with it, it must act responsibly. That means criticising nations with which it may have a strategic partnership. We want to hear that that is so and that Libya is prepared to go beyond the sometimes flaccid comments of diplomatic language. It must be willing and able to lean on the Government of Sudan. There is no evidence that it has done so.

We all very much welcome the peace at Naivasha. One worry is that, while, with the eyes of the world on Sudan, there has been encouragement to the Sudan People's Liberation Movement to sign a deal with the Government, there are many other places to be concerned about. As the hon. Member for Richmond Park said, most of Sudan is at peace. However, the possibility of the balkanisation of the country is a worry. We have seen what has happened in the south and what is now happening in Darfur. There are many other places in Sudan where ethnic conflicts could break out. The world must continue to attend to what is happening in that country. We cannot step back from that.

There is a worry—it is not a conspiracy theory—at the back of my mind; I was talking to an oil analyst the other day about the situation in Western Sahara. I said that we were going to Sudan. He dropped into the conversation the comment, "Of course, since we found oil in Chad, it would not be surprising if there were similar resources in Darfur, and someone somewhere had been thinking in advance about land grabs." That is the history of the south. The matter is not simply one of Arabs versus Africans and Islam versus Christianity. It is one of resources, as is the situation in Iraq. Let us not fool ourselves; there are things going on behind the scenes.

I pay tribute to the British Government. It is wrong for them to be criticised for disengagement from the issue. They have been highly engaged. The work of Alan Goulty, which has not been mentioned, deserves credit. He has been shuffling regularly between meetings with people in this country, the Government of Sudan, the SPLM and all the other parties. It is a very difficult situation, and we must be engaged and never again forget Sudan.

10.30 am
Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD)

I join other Members in congratulating the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) on securing this timely debate. There have been heartfelt contributions from all Members present, all expressing a desire to help the people of Darfur. The situation there is desperate, and I will not repeat the statistics about displaced people. It is the worst humanitarian crisis that the world faces. As well as the hunger and murder, the Ebola crisis developing in the south may spread throughout the country. If things were not already bad enough, there is that element to add to the picture as well.

I am grateful to Alan Goulty, DFID's official, for briefing me on the subject on Monday. From what he was saying and from press reports, it appears that the Government and DFID have done much to alleviate the situation in Darfur and facilitate the peace process in the south, and I congratulate them wholeheartedly on that. However, it appears—I put it no stronger than that—that the UK and other countries could do more to apply the necessary pressure to the Sudanese Government to fulfil their obligations to the people of Darfur.

I hope that the Minister will set out how the UK Government can exert pressure on the Sudanese Government to ensure that the security and protection of civilians in Darfur is maximised. I welcome the statement yesterday from the Secretary of State in which he said: Action must also now be taken to bring irregular forces and militias under control. The Government of Sudan needs to take steps immediately to provide security to Darfurians, who told me yesterday that they will not return home until is it safe to do so. I hope that that statement is the first notch and that pressure will be ratcheted up if the Sudanese Government do not respond.

Perhaps there have been developments in the last couple of days, but one thing that surprised me during the meeting on Monday was that by then the Sudanese Government had made no public statement condemning what is happening in Darfur. They had not distanced themselves from the Janjaweed nor ordered the militias to cease human rights abuses. I hope that more forthright statements have come from the Sudanese Government in the last couple of days.

It is interesting that in the notes from the all-party group on Sudan, which does an excellent job and produces very good briefings, Dr. Ismail is quoted as saying that the people in Darfur need security urgently and the Government of Sudan needs to move quickly to ensure their security…there is a humanitarian urgency…the Government of Sudan should collect weapons from those not in regular forces. That is a positive statement but it is weak in its condemnation. With the contact that the Secretary of State has had, perhaps the Minister will be able to reassure us that condemnation has been more forceful in the last couple of days. I understand the niceties of Sudanese politics, and the concern may be that forthright condemnation from the Government would lead to the breakdown of the peace process. Therefore it must be done tactfully. It must be done, however, because the killing continues.

I welcome the fact that our Government are putting more resources into assisting the African Union. A timetable is needed to ensure the improved protection of civilians and humanitarian access and the speeding up of the customs clearing process. I understand that it currently takes weeks and that the target is to reduce it to seven days.

The most urgent task is to get the Government of Sudan to do all that they can to halt the killings and destruction in Darfur. I hope that the Minister can tell us what means our Government have at their disposal to encourage the Sudanese Government to send the necessary public signals, to issue the relevant military orders and to do their best to deploy more impartial police and security personnel in Darfur. On the latter point, it would be a source of enormous concern if the Sudanese Government simply encouraged the Janjaweed to swap their uniforms for police uniforms. That would not create a climate in which displaced people would want to return to their lands.

The Sudanese Minister of Foreign Affairs claims that ethnic cleansing is not taking place in Darfur as ethnic cleansing means d populating areas and bringing in a different group to replace those who have fled. Does the Minister agree, however, that what is happening amounts, in effect to ethnic cleansing if the original inhabitants cannot return in the short term because of the rain, in the medium term because they have been unable plant their crops for next year, and in the long term because they cannot trust the security forces? At the very least, one ethnicity has been cleared out, and the land has been left empty. What assistance could the UK Government give to encourage the creation of a police force that people in the region can trust? Could they perhaps do something about training?

Clearly, the situation in Darfur is desperate, but there are positive developments, and the peace process is one. I hope that the Minister will be able to say something about the applicability of the model that has been developed for the south. Could it be transposed on to Darfur to provide Darfurians with some of the devolution that they seek?

I turn briefly to the role that the UK can play in getting the international community more involved. Would the Minister support a firm statement by the UN Security Council condemning atrocities in Darfur, or does he agree with the Secretary of State, who is quoted today as saying that talk of military intervention is unhelpful? What role does the Minister see other countries on the Security Council playing? I understand that China, Pakistan and Algeria have not been terribly helpful in developing clear statements or firm action on the issue. Does he believe that the European Union has a greater role to play in bringing an end to the violence? Can the Government do more to encourage our key European partners such as France and Germany, to contribute greater assistance?

One hopes that the situation in Darfur will be resolved at some point, but as several hon. Members have said, there will be still be a significant humanitarian and environmental problem once the situation has been resolved. The region is badly affected by climate change and desertification, so the land will probably not be able to support people. What role can we play in the longer term in providing developmental aid to the region? Clearly, such aid will be needed once the humanitarian crisis and military conflict have been resolved.

Darfur is isolated from the rest of world; it is 800 miles from Khartoum, with no roads. It is our responsibility to put it centre stage and to keep it there. The international community must use all the means at its disposal to stop the killing and to provide the humanitarian assistance that is needed to prevent the tens or hundreds of thousands of deaths that could occur. We still have time to prevent this disaster from turning into a calamity of biblical proportions, but time is slipping away, and we must redouble our efforts before it is too late.

10.39 am
Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con)

The debate was opened in admirable fashion by my hon. Friend the Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) His speech was followed by several powerful and impassioned contributions from right hon. and hon. Members.

The former United Nations humanitarian coordinator for Sudan, Mukesh Kapila, famously described what is happening in Darfur as the worst humanitarian and human-rights catastrophe in the world. However blame is apportioned, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights is clear that the Janjaweed militia is responsible for massive violence, that a climate of impunity in Darfur continues to prevail and that the Government of Sudan permit the Janjaweed to exercise a reign of terror over Darfurians. His report and those of Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the International Crisis Group paint a consistent and unmistakeable picture. UNICEF has access to only half the displacement camps and, as hon. Members know, the safety of its aid workers is often far from guaranteed. The recent capture and subsequent release of 16 UN aid workers is but one example of the poor security that humanitarian agencies face. Oxfam says: Food stocks are depleting fast, access, to drinking water is limited". and Médecins sans Frontières has emphasised that the lives of tens of thousands of people in Darfur are at risk.

Last month I wrote to the Secretary of State for International Development to detail my concerns about the situation in Darfur. I was grateful for his prompt reply. I should now like to put some specific questions to the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs.

Shortly before the Whitsun recess, the Secretary of State wrote to me to say that the Government expected the Government in Khartoum to "rein in" the Janjaweed militia. Does the Minister accept that the Janjaweed militia in Darfur is manifestly sponsored and armed by the Sudanese Government? How does he think that the Sudanese Government intend to disarm or limit the capabilities of the Janjaweed? Would he accept that reports, to which the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) referred, of the Sudanese Government's proposals simply to incorporate the Janjaweed forces into the country's formal police and security structures offer scant reassurance to those only too well aware of their wanton savagery?

What measures do the Government propose to take with others to ensure that forcible repatriation of refugees does not take place in Chad and Darfur? Does the Minister agree that it is vital that the impotence and passivity of the United Nations in the face of genocide in Rwanda is not repeated in Sudan? On the assumption that he of course does, will ha say whether the Government intend to press for a robust United Nations Security Council resolution explicitly condemning the Government of Sudan for the ethnic cleansing of Darfur?

Does the Minister agree that, in urging the Government in Khartoum to provide aid operations immediate and full access to war-affected populations in Darfur, pressure needs to be applied for the opening of the rail lines, so that the United Nations can make massive deliveries of food and medicine from Port Sudan? Will the Government seek to join forces with the United States, the European Union and other donor Governments to approach Libya, Chad, other neighbouring countries and the Sudan People's Liberation Army, in order to establish alternative channels, which are not subject to Khartoum's veto, for the delivery of humanitarian aid to Darfur by land and air? Will the Minister stress that the Sudan Liberation Army and the Justice and Equality Movement should admit all humanitarian aid facilities into territory that they control, including from Government-controlled areas, subject to the proviso only that those deliveries are not accompanied by Government military forces?

Earlier this week, the UN emergency relief coordinator noted the imposition of new obstacles to aid, including an insistence that all medical supplies should be tested in Sudanese laboratories and that all supplies, including food, must be carried in Sudanese trucks and distributed by Sudanese charities or Government agencies. What representations has the Secretary of State for International Development made to the Sudanese Government on that point?

What recent discussions have Ministers had with the African Union, the United States and EU member states, to ensure that, in implementing the role of the ceasefire commission, there are adequate numbers of ceasefire monitors, equipped with helicopters and Land Rovers, in the major towns of west, north and south Darfur? If Government bombing occurs in Darfur, should not the Security Council authorise a no-fly zone to protect civilian populations and consult with those states with the capacity to enforce such a restriction to urge them to do so?

I hope that the Minister will agree that the Security Council should appoint a high-level panel to investigate war crimes in Darfur, establish legal accountability and deter the commission of further atrocities. Those guilty of heinous crimes must be held to account. I hope that the Minister accepts that and that he also accepts that we need to see detailed proposals for compensation and reparation for all victims who have lost grain, livestock and other assets.

The crisis in Darfur is harrowing. That point has been eloquently made by many others and I do not seek to compete with them or to improve on their descriptions. The crisis comes 10 years after the genocide in Rwanda, and none of us can be in any doubt about how much is at stake or where our own responsibility lies. Once again another African people who are innocent have been violated on a scale so grotesque as to defy all but the most vivid and, dare I say it, lurid imaginations. This time, the world has the chance to ensure that Darfur does not descend into genocide. There is not a moment to lose. As each day passes more lives are lost. We have a responsibility to act now. Our duty, in terms of humanitarian aid, diplomatic contact and moral pressure, is abundantly clear.

I have the highest respect for the Secretary of State for International Development as a humanitarian. I am in no doubt about how horrified and appalled he is by what has taken place. The Government have made an important commitment and are providing financial resources, and the Secretary of State has displayed considerable energy in attending to the situation. Insofar as the Government do what is necessary on all the fronts that I have described, they can be assured of enthusiastic support from Conservative Members.

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

As the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) mentioned, the Secretary of State for International Development had hoped to be here in time to respond to this debate, but his plane has unfortunately been delayed and he asked me to respond in his place. He hopes to make a statement to the House in the very near future. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Blaby for raising this important issue and to hon. Members who are present, many of whom have taken a long-term interest in events in Sudan, for the generally constructive tone of today's debate.

Darfur is the most serious humanitarian emergency facing the world today. Several thousand people have already lost their lives, and if there is not swift and effective intervention, many more may do so. This is a man-made catastrophe. Its origins lie in a local rebellion, apparently fuelled by outside interference, which has resulted in a massive over-reaction by the Sudanese Government and their agents, in particular the Janjaweed militia.

As hon. Members have described, there have been systematic attacks on civilians: rape, pillage, looting and destruction of livelihoods. As a result, more than 130,000 people have fled to neighbouring Chad and there are perhaps a million internally displaced people inside Sudan. Their situation is desperate and will grow more so with the onset of the rains, which are beginning now.

The ability of the international community to respond has been limited—initially at least—by lack of access. Darfur is, at the best of times, an extremely remote area and the difficulties have been compounded by obstruction on the part of local authorities and by the Government in Khartoum. Lately, as a result of repeated representations by ourselves and others, there has been some improvement, at least in the situation in Khartoum. On the ground in Darfur, however, there is still some way to go before aid agencies can obtain access to all of the worst affected people.

As I said, we have made repeated representations to the Sudanese Government about the need for unhindered access. Our ambassador, William Patey, has been in almost daily contact with them. My right hon. Friends the Foreign Secretary and the Secretary of State for International Development and I pressed the Sudanese Foreign Minister on the matter when he visited London recently, and the International Development Secretary has pursued the issue in Darfur and in Khartoum in the past few days.

We have been repeatedly assured by the Sudanese Government that all obstacles to access will be removed. I am glad to report that, at least so far as the central Government are concerned, there are signs that that may be happening. There are indications from the United Nations and other agencies that new fast-track procedures for clearing humanitarian relief through customs, registering non-governmental organisations and granting travel permits are beginning to work. However, there is no cause for complacency. Much time has been lost, and the ability of agencies to deliver relief to those in desperate need will decrease with the onset of the rains.

The first priority is the continued lack of security in much of Darfur. A ceasefire was agreed in Chad on 8 April, but, although the worst of the atrocities have ceased, attacks and intimidation by local militia continue. African Union monitors are starting to be deployed and, as they do so, we expect access to improve, and we are pressing the UN to get a move on with the deployment of its monitors.

Perhaps I could say a few words about the UK response. I am grateful to those hon. Members who acknowledged that the UK has been engaged with Sudan for some years. We have not suddenly become aware of it in the past couple of weeks, as the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge) implied. Hon. Members of all parties will acknowledge that we have played a leading cart in raising the matter with the Sudanese Government, the UN and its agencies and the European Union, and I expect it to be discussed at the G8 meeting.

I wish to add my tribute to Alan Goulty and his colleagues in the Sudan unit for the part that they played in helping to achieve the peace agreement between the north and the south, which was recently signed at Naivasha. It is an extremely important agreement, and, as some hon. Members said today, it is also extremely important 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.

Mr. Robathan

I said in my speech that the UK Government have generally behaved extremely well over Sudan. I am not here to criticise them. Could the Minister say something more about the G8? Condoleezza Rice said that Sudan would be discussed. What does he think might come out of the meeting, or does he have no idea?

Mr. Mullin

I think that I had better leave the answer to that question to the G8 participants on Sea island, of whom I am not one I am sure that word will filter out soon.

The UK has been in the forefront of the humanitarian relief effort. Since last September, it has committed humanitarian relief worth £19.5 million for nutrition, health, water and sanitation, and yesterday in Khartoum my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development announced a further allocation of £15 million for humanitarian assistance plus £2 million to support African Union monitoring. Overall, that is the second largest contribution after the United States. The US, the EU and the UK have contributed 75 per cent. of the response to the crisis so far, and we are anxious to encourage other donors to do more.

Strengthening the response of the UN agencies has been critical. We have already seconded four staff to the United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs and three to the UN joint logistics centre. We are considering further support in the form of personnel and equipment to UN agencies including UNICEF and the World Health Organisation, as well as logistical support to the World Food Programme. Our in-kind contribution to the UN appeal for non-food aid accounts for about 25 per cent. of the requirement for blankets and a large part of the contribution made for temporary shelters. We are now airlifting those supplies to Darfur.

In the short time left to me I shall try to deal with some of the points raised by hon. Members. They are likely to have an opportunity to question the Secretary of State for International Development, who be coming hotfoot from Sudan, but I shall write to hon. Members about points that I do not have time to get round to now or that are not dealt with by him.

The hon. Member for Blaby asked about the absence of a UN humanitarian co-ordinator. An acting UN coordinator, Kevin Kennedy, is now n post. As for the humanitarian monitoring force, we hope, as I said, that that will be dealt with in the near future, but the African Union monitors are already beginning to be deployed.

Several hon. Members, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge and Chryston (Mr. Clarke), asked for maximum pressure on the Government of Sudan. I hope that we have demonstrated that considerable pressure is being exerted by us and others, and that there is evidence that it is having an effect, albeit belatedly. There is still, of course, scope for considerable improvement.

The hon. Member for Richmond Park asked how the aid will be distributed. Generally speaking, it will be distributed in-country and directly. That is already beginning to happen. Of course, aid will also have to be supplied to the 130,000 refugees in Chad. She also asked who is arming the rebels. The area is unfortunately awash with weapons, and it is not difficult for people to acquire them. However, there are signs, as I mentioned in my opening remarks, of outside interference. I am not in a position to go into the details today, but the hon. Lady is right to raise that wider issue.

The hon. Lady also asked about development aid. We are committed to that, especially in support of the agreement reached at Naivasha. However, as I am sure she will appreciate, we do not want to prop up any Government who are behaving as badly as some Governments in the region have done. Therefore, we are concentrating in the short term on humanitarian aid. However, she is right that development aid is the long-term solution.

My hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Dawson) said that we should not overlook the progress that has already been made. I am grateful to him for the tribute that he paid to Alan Goulty and the Sudan unit. My hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) was right to raise the underlying issues. There is a big picture to be taken into consideration; she is right that we need a more robust system of international intervention and a different mindset on the Security Council. However, in the dying moments of the debate I do not think that I can elaborate on that point.

The next four to six weeks will be critical. Leadership, co-ordination and the deployment of experienced personnel are the key to avoiding a catastrophe and that must be our focus for the time being.

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