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Conflict Prevention

11 am

Mr. Bowen Wells (Hertford and Stortford): The report of the International Development Committee on conflict prevention and post-conflict reconstruction lies at the heart of developmental issues. Many of us who have been in the field for a long time are aware of the need for stability. Lord Judd and I discussed that need at the beginning of this Parliament, and concluded that unless there are conditions of stability and an absence of conflict, development is not only impossible but will go backwards. People in unstable countries and areas of conflict would become much poorer, so conflict prevention lies at the heart of development debate and policy.

Conflict haunts the developing world and prevents a 50 per cent. reduction in the number of people in abject poverty by 2015, which is one of the main objectives of the Department for International Development, as set out in its White Paper. The prevention of conflict and post-conflict reconstruction therefore lie at the heart of the developmental objectives not only of the Department for International Development but of all the national and international institutions and non-governmental organisations engaged in this field, from the International Monetary Fund and the World bank to the smallest non-governmental organisation working in one country.

The report attempts to bring together all the factors and initiatives that can prevent conflict in the first place, or begin the task of reconstruction after conflict has ended. It cannot be simple coincidence that 20 of the poorest 34 countries of the world are either in the middle of armed conflict or have recently emerged from it. Conflict and poverty may not be recognised as causally connected, but they are very close companions. There is no better way to produce abject poverty than conflict. Many years of painstaking development work can be destroyed in a few months by an outbreak of hostilities that takes many more years to repair. Without political stability and security, development and poverty reduction cannot be achieved. It is for those reasons that the Committee embarked on its comprehensive review of conflict and the policies that would prevent it in the first place or help rehabilitation in the second.

The production of the report took the Committee many hours of painstaking work, combined with visits to Uganda, Rwanda and Kenya, and later to Kosovan refugees in Macedonia. In a departmental memorandum, the Secretary of State for International Development stated:

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The Committee concluded that sustainable development alone provides genuine solutions to endemic conflict. It is difficult to isolate individual factors that bring about conflict, although the report covers the principal causes: poverty, inequality, economic shocks, such as the sudden drop in the price of coffee in Rwanda which affected two thirds of the country's farmers, human rights abuses, failures and abuses of political leaderships, arms proliferation and the exploitation of poor countries, especially in Africa, by both sides in the cold war.

I shall highlight the causes of which the Committee had first-hand experience. On our visit to Rwanda, the effects of over population were immediately apparent. Every hill and valley was totally exploited for farming. The hill tops were covered not with Rwanda's natural vegetation but with eucalyptus trees, presumably imported under the colonial Belgian administration. As a result, individual farmers had only a tiny piece of land. Rwanda's traditional land usage practice of dividing land equally between each family member meant that such people had unsustainable plots scattered over the village and surrounding areas. Families were therefore incapable of sustaining the most meagre life. Indeed, they could not sustain a recognisable standard of living.

Such circumstances are likely to lead to conflict and jealously, although that is not necessarily so. Mr. Chairman, out of desperation, people--

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Nicholas Winterton) : Order, I hesitate to correct the hon. Gentleman. However, in this place, a Deputy Speaker presides over debate.

Mr. Wells : I am sorry, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am not accustomed to speaking in this Chamber.

In Rwanda, land is precious and has been made infertile by over-cultivation. That leads to desperation, which erupts in unpredictable and un-African conflict. Generally speaking, Africans are accommodating and generous to their neighbours. They do not object to large numbers of refugees coming to live in their country, unlike people in the United Kingdom, who object strongly to only a few refugees taking up residence here.

Rwanda exploded into conflict between the Hutus and Tutsis and was invaded by Tutsi forces based in Uganda. The international community did not help to prevent that conflict and did not even take elementary precautions when it was obvious that conflict was inevitable. Rwanda was not the central focus of developmental assistance, although it needed such assistance to prevent the outbreak of conflict between the Tutsis and Hutus. We should do something about that, but we are failing to do so. However, I am sure that hon. Members will attest to the seriousness of the position.

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby): I know that my hon. Friend will cover a great deal in our debate. The aftermath of the Rwandan conflict has moved west into the Democratic Republic of Congo, formerly Zaire. Things have not improved since our report was published. The DRC is involved with Zimbabwe, whose helicopters were not available to support Mozambique because they were being used in a conflict in the DRC. We have seen only the tip of a dreadful, unending circle of conflict in Africa.

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Mr. Wells : My hon. Friend is entirely right. The conflict in Rwanda has spread into the DRC, because the Hutus are being looked after in camps run by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, where they have been able to reconstruct their activities. That is another factor to be taken into account when we consider the role of international organisations in such situations.

The conflict that threatened Rwanda's stability led to attacks on DRC forces, and hence the DRC war, which brought in Angola, another very poor country, and Zimbabwe, whose economy has been brought to its knees. Thus the whole sorry tale continues. It is essential in the war against poverty to try to prevent conflict in Africa and to help with reconstruction after the conflict has subsided.

We must consider how to put in place secure governance, which includes an Executive and an impartial system of justice. To prevent the outbreak of conflict, the people who feel aggrieved must be confident that their problems will be sorted out in a just and objective manner that is accepted by the whole country. Such systems were absent in Rwanda and, at times, in Uganda. Uganda under President Muzeveni is having a renaissance because of the lack of conflict in most of the country. The Committee visited the north of Uganda, which borders the Sudan, where there is conflict. We witnessed the people of north Uganda in the most appalling conditions of poverty and fear because of the conflict overflowing from southern Sudan, where the forces of the Government of the north are constantly engaged in a war against John Garang. He, in turn, is taking teams of armed soldiers, many very young, into northern Uganda, capturing boys as young as 11 or 12, keeping them in conditions resembling slavery and teaching them to be soldiers, on threat of death. We met some of those young soldiers: the story was in their eyes. They were listless and in despair; many have committed suicide because of the hopelessness of their situation. They are the victims of conflict, and we must help them to go back to a reasonable life.

We cannot help development in northern Uganda while such activities are going on. I hope that the debate will bring the conflict to the top of the in-baskets at the Foreign Office and the offices of the international organisations. We have a responsibility to settle the war in the Sudan and north Uganda, where there is terrible starvation and horrendous offences against women and children happen every day. Unless we achieve a settlement, there can be no development in northern Uganda or the Sudan.

Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the world appears to have forgotten what is happening in the Sudan? The British Government should be making much more of an effort to resolve the conflict, which has been running intermittently for 30 years.

Mr. Wells : I hope that the hon. Lady's ambitions for the Sudan, which are the same as mine, will come to fruition. It has been forgotten, and I cannot understand

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why. The country is well known to the British, and many friends of the British live there. We should be striving to find a solution in order to restart development in that country. It is a tragedy, and it requires the combined efforts of Saudi Arabia, the United States and its neighbours Kenya and Uganda, as well as Britain and the international organisations, to make progress there.

I cannot help thinking of another country in which I spent seven years of my adult life helping to further its development, which was going very well in the 1960s and early 1970s. It experienced not a conflict, but a serious failure of governance in which elections were rigged by the then President Burnham to keep him and his party in power. A one-party state was established, and from one form of corruption--the corruption of the electoral machinery--others followed. The sugar, bauxite and timber industries and the retail sector were all taken over, as was anything else that the Government could lay their hands on by borrowing money that they could not repay. Guyana was reduced from a middle-income, least developed country to one of the poorest countries in the world. It was one of the first countries to benefit from the HIPC initiative--the world community's attempts to write off debt, so that development can be restarted in heavily indebted poor countries.

Governance is hugely important in itself, and conflict breaks down governance. The whole of the judicial system in Rwanda was obliterated: there were no judges, no magistrates, and no clerks to magistrates or to any other courts. We witnessed an event that will always haunt me--the incarceration of 1,200 prisoners in an old warehouse in Kigali. When we visited those prisoners, they had been there for four years. None had been charged: they were simply there, and their morale and physical condition was constantly deteriorating. Many suicides took place within that prison.

Ms Oona King (Bethnal Green and Bow): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that attempts by the United Nations to bring many of those implicated in the genocide to justice were not as speedy as they should have been and, in some respects, hindered the Rwandan Government's attempts to do so themselves? We should be pressing the United Nations to ensure that justice is more readily available to countries such as Rwanda that are facing complete and utter annihilation.

Mr. Wells : I very much agree. We should contrast the condition in which the international community left Rwanda--without any capacity to implement justice--with what is happening in Kosovo. I hear that we are going to send judges, magistrates and clerks to help provide a system of justice--only a year after the Kosovo conflict. That did not happen in four years in Rwanda, although some people are now being trained there to take on the task of administering justice. Without justice, and the capacity to charge and try people objectively, there can be no resolution of conflict. That became clear in Kosovo and action was taken, but it was not taken until much later in Rwanda, and it is still rudimentary justice.

Mr. Robathan : My hon. Friend and I reached similar conclusions when we discussed the report. I wish to reinforce his point about governance and political

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leadership. In the countries that we examined, and in some that we visited, governance and political leadership were fundamentally important. Where there has been conflict, invariably there has been poor governance. That was so in Iraq, in Rwanda before the war and in Mozambique, whose problems are extremely complicated. When a better Government is in place, as in Uganda, in Mozambique now and in Rwanda, although it is not a democratic Government, and there is better governance, it becomes possible to suppress conflict and drive it away.

Mr. Wells : I agree entirely with that analysis. A good system of justice is a major way of preventing conflict in a country. Objective judicial systems are needed to begin with; they have to be in place to prevent conflict. They must not be corrupt in any way, and the people must trust them if they are trying to reconstruct a country that has suffered conflict.

Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham): My hon. Friend made the powerful point that within a year of the conflict in Kosovo we are sending in a barrage of lawyers to underpin the legal system. That never happened in the four years after the conflicts on Africa. Does my hon. Friend agree that that raises serious questions for western Governments, especially our own, as regards employing double standards between European countries and African countries? We must be careful to be even-handed in our approach to conflict anywhere in the world, be it on our doorstep or in Asia.

Mr. Wells : Our report contrasts the amount of money that was donated and committed to the reconstruction of Kosovo with the sum that was committed to the reconstruction of Rwanda. Kosovo was over-subscribed, while Rwanda received less than 25 per cent. of the amount that was thought necessary for immediate disbursement there. That shows that the international system is not even-handed, and it will encourage jealousies and distrusts, which we should not excite in any way. The world must address itself to this problem, because it is clear that there is one generosity for those with whom we can identify--white people, not to put too fine a point on it--and another for black people. No self-respecting person or institution can sustain that, in this country or anywhere else. I agree with my hon. Friend, and I am extremely angry that it is happening. None the less, we must keep working to ensure that international assistance is given to places such as Rwanda, Guyana, Zimbabwe and South Africa.

Our report also refers to truth commissions and the application of other methods of justice in post-conflict situations. When justice has broken down completely and there are no people to set up and administer justice, let alone conduct court cases, other methods must be used to bring about reconciliation. It is important to learn from the truth commisison in South Africa, which has shown that there is a way quickly to re-establish justice, albeit a rough-and-ready method. There are faults with that system, but at least it would have prevented 1,200 young men from having to sit in a warehouse in Rwanda for four years with nothing to do, deteriorating in every possible way. Resentments and jealousies build up, and that may lead to further conflict. These methods must be worked on, improved and

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refined, but they represent a quick way to begin to re-establish justice in a post-conflict situation, which is essential.

In Africa particularly, but also in Europe, democracy is crucial to providing a stable system of government. It has served this country well. It is evolving and changing all the time to adjust to new circumstances and demands by the electorate. It also provides a means of changing Governments without conflict.

The report examines whether it is possible, in view of their history, to establish a sustainable democracy in countries such as Rwanda, Mozambique and South Africa. My answer is yes, it is--partly because democracy is an African form of government. In truth, democracy is not just an African or European form of government, but a human form of government. It provides the essential element of justice, because it provides a method of discussing issues that engenders consent to the decision adopted by the majority. A bad or wrong decision can still be obeyed under the rule of law, and people can live with it for the time being until others come to power and change the Government. That is the essential element of decmocracy and it is an African system.

The Committee visited Swaziland only two weeks ago. The King of Swaziland is one of the few remaining monarchical figures in Africa, but he is not a military dictator or a dictator of any sort. He has to hold meetings in the traditional fashion and in two Houses--an aristocratic, landowners' House and a non-landowners' House. Is that not familiar to people who know the Westminster system? As I say, that is a traditional African system. The King has to find out the majority opinion among his people before he implements any decisions. Democracy can assist Africa to avoid conflict, as the report confirms, but, if democracy is to be firmly established, it must have help.

We were in Malawi two weeks ago. The Malawi Parliament meets twice a year for two weeks because it cannot afford to meet more often. I do not accept that, but that is what it says. There is a shortage of money, but it has a public accounts committee and a treasury committee, and a committee dealing with labour standards--and it looks wonderful. Those committees have to share two or three clerks to help them with their deliberations. I asked when they last met and was told that they had never met. The reason is that they have to meet at the same time as the Parliament and there are not enough staff to run both Parliament and the committees. That suggests that the country needs assistance with running its Parliaments--the essential part of its democracy.

Such countries need assistance to run their electoral systems properly, to evolve their government and call their Executives to account. That is vital to producing a framework for economic development.

Another important issue is the role of the private sector. The White Paper on international development clearly recognises that the private sector is the engine of development, and that money that flows into private sector investment and trade far outweighs any sums that can be produced through aid agencies, the Department for International Development, the World bank and the International Monetary Fund. It is essential for the private sector to be involved. However, it may

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contribute to the difficulties that a country faces if it becomes involved in corrupt practices. Paragraph 15 of the report states:

    The Development White Paper lists the consequences of corruption--higher prices and fewer employment opportunities, the diversion of scarce resources away from poverty elimination, constraints to growth due to the uncertainty and unpredictability of costs to prospective investors, reduced representation for the poor and the perpetuation of elites.

Mr. Andrew Rowe (Faversham and Mid-Kent): Does my hon. Friend share my sense of outrage that when we were in Malawi and saw one of the few functioning anti-corruption services, we were told that to pursue a pretty obvious case of corruption within the country, the service had applied to the United Kingdom for assistance and had been told by the Department of Trade and Industry that there were no powers within that Department to compel a British company to explain its conduct. When the service went to the Home Office for help, the latter said that the matter was nothing to do with it.

It is disgraceful to be preaching the gospel of anti-corruption abroad, only to find that our own legislative practices make it impossible for developing countries to pursue crooks there.

Mr. Wells: Yes, I share my hon. Friend's disgust at that. He will remember that in the report that we are discussing we made a positive recommendation that legislation should be enacted in the United Kingdom to make it an offence to bribe government officials and any other persons in a third country. As far as I know, such legislation has not yet come before us. It is essential that it be introduced at the earliest possible opportunity. We should at least put our own house in order. Bribery takes two people, the person to offer and the person to accept. Sometimes Mr. Fayed seems also to forget that, but that is another matter.

I shall illustrate the corruption that is taking place, especially in regard to power supply. In each of the countries that the Committee has visited recently--India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Malawi and Zambia--we found that the power supply company had been corrupted. These companies have been corrupted by their Governments because they do not pay their bills. If Governments do not pay their bills, the price of power supply has to increase for those who do pay their bills.

Corruption arises in other ways. We are told that in Bangladesh, electricity is supplied to large undertakings at very much lower prices than the standard tariffs. We find that power supplies are continually undermined by Governments and by powerful people within the community. As a result, the electricity service deteriorates and it cannot be supplied to rural areas to poor people. That is extremely important in developmental terms, because electricity provides a source of light that does not strain people's eyes if they are studying at night. Education is hugely important in the anti-poverty drive. Electricity is very important also because rural people without a power supply are obliged

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to cut down trees to enable them to light fires to keep warm and cook food.

These corrupt practices do not need to happen in a developing country. Electricity supply companies should be profitable and should be contributing to the elimination of poverty by supplying power to rural and other areas. They are not the most profitable areas to supply, but it is essential that they be supplied, in the drive for development. A regular power supply is essential to run computers and other modern equipment. It is only by jumping over developmental gaps into new technology that many countries will begin to work themselves out of poverty.

The corruption that we have witnessed in power supply companies is extremely dangerous. Sadly, it is typical of much of what we find in developing countries. Much of the corruption is caused because these countries do not collect their revenue properly. They need assistance in collecting taxes and in devising means by which their customs and excise services can be run properly. They need assistance in collecting sufficient revenue to enable them to pay their civil servants properly. That applies also to their police forces and armed services. As these people are not paid anything like a living wage, minor corruption--it is huge in its impact, because almost every one of them has to be corrupt--is a serious problem in introducing good governance in developing countries, and we need to help them overcome the problem. I know that the Department for International Development is doing a great deal in this area, and I am sure that the Minister will tell us about some of the initiatives that he will take.

There are non-oppressive methods that can be used to defeat corruption. I take as an example the road that is being built between Johannesburg and Maputo. It crosses an international boundary, and it will be built by the private sector, which has been given a 25-year lease. It is required to provide toll booths and to ensure that lorries using the road are not overweight and that drivers do not exceed speed limits, for example. The private sector will have to maintain the road for 25 years and hand it back at the end of that period, or possibly renew the arrangement.

Such an arrangement has the benefit that it eliminates the many forms of corruption that are still taking place on the road between Mombassa, Nairobi and Kampala in east Africa. In that area, Ministers own trucks and shipping companies. They overload their trucks because that is clearly beneficial for them. The road deteriorates and collapses as a result. That is a typical example of corruption.

In the context of the road between Johannesburg and Maputo, if the private sector pays more in bribes or if there is ministerial corruption, the price of the road and hence the tolls will increase. If the toll is fixed, the private sector will not get its money back so quickly. Corruption can be eliminated by the way in which the contract is let. Such arrangements should be thought out and considered in developing countries. That will lead to a reduction in corruption and its pervasive influence.

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Good governance and good administration and justice systems are essential if development is to take place. The absence of conflict is essential. Development cannot take place in circumstances where violent conflict is an ever-present threat or reality. Progress towards the achievement of international targets for development and the halving of poverty by the year 2015 cannot take place in those circumstances.

Several hon. Members rose--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. Before I call the next speaker, I remind hon. Members that we have taken up 40 minutes of a one-and-a-half hour debate. It is clear that other hon. Members want to speak and it will be appropriate, although my successor will be in the Chair when the Minister is asked to reply, to give the Minister adequate time to respond. I hope that all hon. Members will note that.

11.39 am

Mr. Tony Worthington (Clydebank and Milngavie): Because of the time left, I shall be brief. In fact, I shall make only one point, which is to follow on from the remarks that the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells) has made about the crucial issue of governance. We must invest in governance--in capacity building and co-ordination of capacity building--if only because of the financial cost of the destructive consequences of a failed prevention strategy.

The issue of governance is rising up the development community's agenda. It is no use investing money in good services such as education and health unless those services are properly administered. In Bangladesh, the administration of the Government education system is appalling. Good systems of administration are needed if services are to be delivered effectively.

There are innumerable agencies other than the Department for International Development now involved in good governance activities: the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, through know-how funds; the British Council and the Commonwealth; the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and the Inter-Parliamentary Union; police services, local government bodies and trade unions; and the European Union, through its administration of the PHARE and TACIS funds. In addition, the World bank, the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organisation are involved. Only last week, the director-general of the WTO said that one of his priorities is capacity building, because if countries cannot be part of the world trading system owing to a lack of capacity, it is a recipe for disorganisation and future conflict.

Non-governmental organisations do a great deal of work in this sphere, and I pay tribute to two with which I and other hon. Members have been associated. The Westminster Foundation for Democracy, which was established by the previous Government with all-party support, does invaluable work. I have been involved in its activities in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Nigeria and Kenya. It is soon to start operations in Sierra Leone. That organisation enables parliamentarians to help parliamentarians of other countries to establish systems of good governance, and I commend its highly fulfilling work. I also pay tribute to the BBC. Under its

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retiring head of training, Gwyneth Henderson, the BBC World Service has done a huge amount of work to train journalists in central and eastern Europe who are attempting to set up a free press, free television, free broadcasting and so on.

We have to ask whether we are getting full value for money from all the activities associated with good governance. Institution building is extremely difficult: it is easy to rebuild buildings and physical infrastructure, but building social institutions is far harder. Our current experiences in Northern Ireland and Kosovo tell us that. I am pleased that such activities are occurring, but they are unco-ordinated, even when only the British Government are involved. Countries such as Sierra Leone and Nigeria present huge challenges, but much of our work is short term, unco-ordinated and not part of a general plan of social reconstruction.

What I would like to know from the Minister--[Interruption]--is how we stop that noise.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: All I can suggest is that we continue to make progress while those who are in charge of the sound try to do something about it.

Mr. Worthington: Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

In places such as Nigeria and Sierra Leone, the amount of investment needed, especially in human resources, is vast. I understand that the Department for International Development is soon to produce a governance strategy paper; perhaps that will provide the focus that is needed. Certainly, the theme of governance needs to be focused on more tightly, and a catalyst is needed to bring together available resources. We do not need to create a new institute or academic institution, or to reinvent existing structures. For example, if the problem is media operations in a democracy, the BBC, the independent television companies and the free press can help.

Long-term work is needed to achieve good governance, not short-term projects. We as a country have great assets: our language, our contacts with many parts of the world, our democratic stability, our key membership of bodies such as the Commonwealth, the United Nations Security Council, the World bank and the International Monetary Fund, and the quality of work done by the Department for International Development and other agencies.

I draw hon. Members' attention to paragraph 42 of our report, which states the views of International Alert and Oxfam. International Alert told the Committee that

The issue of structural stability, about which the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford, the Chairman of the International Development Committee, spoke, is one that needs our finest minds and our best work on institution building. Much of our activity is worth while, but I am not convinced that we have recognised the scale of the work that is needed and the extent to which planning of that work is needed.

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11.46 am

Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells) on the sympathetic and knowledgeable way in which he has presented the report. Like him and the hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington), I look forward to hearing the Minister's speech. The report of the International Development Committee was published some time ago--indeed, much of the evidence was taken in 1998--as was the Government's response. I am sure that I am not alone in thinking that a report of such significance and importance should have been debated on the Floor of the House and afforded a three-hour debate, instead of being debated for one and a half hours in Westminster Hall. I hope that the Minister will write to hon. Members who raise points to which he is unable to respond in the time available to him.

I am only too aware of the results of conflict. That knowledge is shared by the entire population of the United Kingdom, because of the rapid communications systems available in the modern world. Improved communications have great benefits, and they allow to be beamed straight into our sitting rooms reports that reveal the sights and sounds of conflict. However, that greater awareness can result in complacency, or acceptance of the inevitability of conflicts in some parts of the world. We should not delude ourselves, either, that conflict is inevitable, or that it can always be prevented. Instead, we should use our increasing awareness to focus on what is possible and on the programmes and actions that can be pursued, especially by our own Government.

I believe that the report makes a contribution to that process. It offers an invaluable insight into events around the world and the Government's attitude toward them. It has not escaped my notice that the report received unanimous, cross-party support on the Committee; there were no dissenting voices.

A story broadcast on the radio this morning caught my attention, because it involved a fellow European Union country. As a current example of conflict, the story concentrated on Angola and the possibility that diamonds are being brokered through Belgium. A Belgian Foreign Office spokesman acknowledged that the diamonds probably were coming through Belgium and being sold so that arms could be supplied to fuel the conflict in Angola.

In the papers this morning we read of the potential conflict in the Pacific rim. In Taiwan, one of the candidates in the elections there has expressed views on independence, which brings its own dangers.

The media bring into our homes daily stories of potential and existing conflicts all round the world. We must not take our eye off the ball. We must concentrate on what we can do to help to prevent those conflicts or limit the damage from existing conflicts.

I shall not take up the Chamber's time for too long as other hon. Members want to contribute, but I wish to raise a few issues arising from the Government's response, to which I hope the Minister will reply.

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In paragraph 2, the Government express the view that

The Minister should also consider what the European Union is doing. In a recent Conflict Prevention Newsletter, it was noted that the Helsinki summit in December decided to go ahead with a rapid reaction force, but that

    progress on the conflict prevention agenda, by contrast, is modest. We need to know what the EU will do to help to apply diplomatic pressure, and what other measures the EU has at its disposal.

The Government stated in their response that the

    DTI will carefully consider the Committee's views in preparing future departmental reports. That was on 21 October 1999. In the light of comments that we heard earlier about the trading position, can the Minister tell us what steps have been taken by the DTI to move that agenda forward? What evidence of progress can the hon. Gentleman offer?

Paragraph 11 deals with institution building. The Committee rightly drew attention to the work of the British Council, and in particular requested information on how the British Council was engaged in conflict prevention through institution building. What is the Minister doing to support the British Council? Reports show that his Department is withdrawing projects from the British Council. In Africa, British Council activity has diminished substantially, as a direct result of the withdrawal of contracts by the Department.

Paragraph 33 refers to the International Criminal Court. I am particularly disturbed, as was the Committee, that the legislation to allow the UK to ratify the statute of the International Criminal Court has not yet been introduced. Can the Minister update us on the progress that has been made in that regard, and tell us whether the draft legislation will be produced this year, next year, some time or never?

There are many other issues in the report that I should like to cover, and many Government responses that need to be probed further. However, I notice that I have been speaking for eight minutes, and I want to give others a chance to speak. I hope that the Minister has made a note of all the questions that I posed. I shall write to him about other matters that I have not been able to raise in debate this morning, to which I hope he will respond.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Lady.

11.55 am

Ms Oona King (Bethnal Green and Bow): I must follow in the footsteps of my hon. Friends, who have acted with more restraint than I have ever witnessed in politicians during my time in this place. I shall omit most

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of what I had intended to say, and concentrate on one salient point. That concerns the rules-based approach to international conflict resolution, about which we have heard so much.

Everyone in the Chamber is agreed that without a rules-based approach, we will for ever be faced with conflicts like the one in Rwanda. Instead of the UN doing what it was set up to do in the aftermath of the second world war, it did the reverse, for whatever reason, and left the country when it was on the brink of genocide, instead of stepping in to prevent that genocide.

What practical measures can my hon. Friend the Minister and the Department suggest to prevent that? I have read most of the literature on the subject, and I can see no realistic alternative in the long run to some type of UN standing army. A UN intervention force must not be subject to the national interests of certain member states; at present, they judge whether it is in their interest to get involved in a particular conflict, rather than considering the merits of saving the lives of those at risk.

We saw in Rwanda that one Canadian UN general with 200 UN troops saved the lives of 25,000 people. Because America had had a bad experience in Somalia shortly before, it was not prepared to send in Americans. There have been other occasions when we have not been prepared to send British soldiers in.

There will always be occasions when member states think that, for their own political interests, it is not appropriate to step in at the point at which conflict prevention is possible. That is the subject of the report.

Politics is the art of the possible. If the Minister tells me that at present it is impossible to assemble some type of UN standing army operating on a rules-based approach as opposed to national interest, what can be done to make it possible? That is our job. If my hon. Friend cannot respond in detail now, I should be immensely grateful if he wrote to let me know the Department's view.

There is cross-party consensus in the Chamber on most of what we are discussing. That makes it more likely that in the future we can create the political space needed to achieve the desired result. That is the only way in which I believe we will bring about early intervention by the UN to prevent the sort of conflict--or rather the carnage--that the Committee witnessed in Rwanda.

11.58 am

Mr. Andrew Rowe (Faversham and Mid-Kent): I shall be brief. I want to make three points. First, I am struck by the Department for International Development's extraordinary and largely politically correct reluctance to engage with the faith communities in various parts of the world. If we go abroad as a Select Committee, it is extremely difficult, unless we specifically request it, to have meetings with the leaders of religious organisations included in the programme. In a country such as Rwanda, where the only medium of communication with the mass of the population is the regular church service on a Sunday, such pussy-footing is extraordinary.

I understand that the matter is complex and difficult and that some conflicts are fuelled by the faith communities themselves, but unless we engage with

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them and recognise their long experience of the countries in which they operate, we are missing an important trick.

The power of ideas as the basis for conflicts is underestimated. We still have the notion that if we improve economies and provide better health and education, we will eliminate conflict. I am sure that that would help. However, some powerful ideas are being batted around the world, and the developed world must accelerate the dialogue between, for example, the Muslim and the Christian countries about the theological bases on which they proceed. That will prove one of the most important ways of eliminating conflict.

Secondly, for understandable reasons, one of the Government's more ambivalent replies to our report relates to our position as a major arms supplier. Over the next few years, this country must reconsider whether it can credibly go round the world claiming that we must reduce conflict while supplying more arms to more people than anyone else in the world apart from the Americans.

Thirdly, I have been struck by the influence and importance of the diaspora of the countries that we have considered. The Department for International Development is engaged in consultations with some of them. As an international community, our use of disapora needs to be better organised. Many of the most influential, intelligent and best educated people have fled their countries because of conflict. They have established themselves in many countries overseas and become extremely sophisticated; they are often well off. Their contribution to preventing conflict needs to be developed and encouraged.

12.1 pm

Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park): I welcome the debate on the report. I was a member of the Select Committee on International Development when the report was produced. We spent many hours interviewing witnesses and had an unjolly trip to Africa, where we had experiences and heard stories that we shall remember for the rest of our lives. I have no time to tell them, but they were unforgettable.

I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells), the Chairman of the Select Committee. He is extremely knowledgeable, fair and good humoured. He always rules us with tolerance and kindness.

I want to comment on two aspects of the report which concern me greatly. The first is co-ordination between Departments. The Under-Secretary of State for International Development--who, more often than not, is on the side of the angels--is present, but where are the boys from the Foreign Office, the Department of Trade and Industry, the Ministry of Defence, the Treasury and other Departments that I shall mention? Their absence is my only sadness about the debate.

The Department for International Development has created a conflict and humanitarian affairs department: great stuff; it has produced good pamphlets. There is an interdepartmental working group on conflict and we hear about conflict impact assessments. However, do other Departments take that seriously? I reiterate that the Department of Trade and Industry, the Treasury, the Ministry of Defence, the Foreign and

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Commonwealth Office and even the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food need to take it seriously. Where is the evidence that they do?

Paragraph 10 of the Government's response to the Select Committee report deals with policy coherence and consistency. It states:

Paragraph 13 refers to early warnings of conflict. Jane Sharp of the Centre for Defence Studies gave evidence to the Select Committee. She said:

    in most conflicts we are not short of early warning--we are short of political will--and I think that sometimes, particularly in the United Kingdom, you have staff in British Embassies overseas who could be monitoring human rights abuses, but in fact invest a lot of time pursuing arms contracts. The Government's response was confusing. It implied that the responsibility was split between the FCO and the Ministry of Defence. There is no co-ordination, despite the Government's claims.

There are many other examples: arms sales to Zimbabwe and Indonesia; multinationals operating with Government blessing in Colombia and Burma, where there is real and threatened conflict; British firms encouraged by the DTI to invest in the Sudan. Warnings have been issued now, but it is too late.

Civil war has raged in Sudan for 30 years. The Canadian Government commissioned a report, which condemned the activities of one of its oil companies, Talisman, around the oil fields in Sudan, where the Nuer people are being raped, taken into slavery and driven off their land. Yet a British company operates there and helps with the pumping equipment that pipes the oil to the north of Sudan. Where is the commitment across Departments to conflict prevention?

Arms proliferation is the second subject that I want to tackle.

Mrs. Gillan: Does the hon. Lady agree that the proliferation of small arms is important? My hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells) referred to children in conflict. Small arms proliferation perpetuates children's involvement in conflict. Does the hon. Lady agree that the Government's response is inadequate?

Dr. Tonge: Yes. I had adequate proof of that when I visited southern Sudan last year. I asked the rebel leaders whether they had any problem in obtaining arms--there is, after all, an embargo on both parts of the Sudan. They looked at me as if I was mad. They can get small, large or middle-sized arms from anywhere they like. As the hon. Lady said, the small arms do much damage in developing countries.

Discussing the subject has become almost boring--I have been accused of raising the matter almost every day. I do. However, the Select Committee's

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recommendations on arms proliferation were clear and unanimous. We acknowledge that countries may need to defend themselves. The Government responded positively to the Committee's recommendation that the interdepartmental working group on conflict should agree policies on the security requirements of specific developing countries. How many times has the working group met? What are its conclusions on the requirements?

The hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) pointed out that Zimbabwe is engaged in a war with the Republic of Congo. Where was the consideration of security requirements in Zimbabwe vis-a-vis development? Is there any progress on Sierra Leone and Nigeria? I look forward to the Under-Secretary's reply.

I remain unconvinced that DFID's advice on arms exports is taken seriously. I shall give two examples, which were mentioned in the report: Eritrea and Indonesia. The Government's response to criticism about arms to Indonesia stated:

On Eritrea, the Government's response states that DFID raised anxieties about poverty and development. Criterion 8 of the European code of conduct on arms sales clearly deals with the effect of trade on development in specific countries. However, the FCO ignored it.

We are told that the Secretary of State for International Development does not sign the annual report on strategic exports because the Department sees only 15 per cent. of export licences. That is also utter nonsense. That 15 per cent. represents exports to the most sensitive areas of the world--those countries at most risk of conflict. Who are the Department of Trade and Industry and other Departments trying to kid?

I could go on, but I dare not. Instead, I shall end with some questions. When will the arms trafficking and brokering Bill be published? We have been promised, it so when shall we have it? When will the Scott report recommendations be implemented? They are four years old. When will we have a register of arms brokers in this country? When will the Government fully comply with the European Union code of conduct on arms sales and, in particular, criterion 8, which deals with the effect on development? In short, when will the Government take development and conflict prevention seriously?

12.10 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. George Foulkes): Notwithstanding the speech of the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge) and the challenging questions she posed, the Government greatly welcome the International Development Committee report. We also welcome the debate, albeit that it has lasted only an

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hour and a half. It was open to the Opposition to choose conflict prevention as the subject of a three-hour debate on the Floor of the House tomorrow.

Mrs. Gillan: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Foulkes: It worked.

Mrs. Gillan: This is not a question of the Minister's remarks working because it is worth pointing out that Mozambique has been chosen as the subject for tomorrow's debate. It also deserves to be debated in the light of what has happened. He is quite uncharitable and makes a bankrupt point.

Mr. Foulkes: The members of the Select Committee know that the Secretaries of State for International Development and for Defence gave extensive evidence on Mozambique to the Committee yesterday and they were well received. We commend the Committee's work on that particular area.

I want to answer as many questions as possible and shall endeavour to answer in writing any that I do not touch on, as requested by the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan), who spoke for the principal opposition party. I shall move on, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is that the right form of address, John?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. John McWilliam): Order. The Minister is confused. He has had to call me everything from treasurer to Mr. McWilliam to Mr. Deputy Speaker over the years so I can understand why he has problems. However, the correct form of address is Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Foulkes: Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

The Committee has, like many others, recognised that the nature of conflict has changed, that wars increasingly take place within, rather than between, states and that, tragically, civilians, rather than soldiers, are the main victims of those wars. It is widely appreciated that in many developing countries war and violent conflict are the major cause of poverty--as the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells), the Chairman of the Select Committee, said in his introduction--and a major barrier to progress in development. The Chairman also mentioned the clear acknowledgement from many people, including other Development Ministries around the world, that the development and security agendas are inseparable and that violent conflict arises, more often than not, because of the failure of development. As Kofi Annan put it:

The best guarantee of peace and of stability is economic and political development, which, as a number of hon. Members said, gives people a stake in their society and the government of their country. As the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford generously acknowledged, since the election in May 1997 the Government have led a radical shift in the focus of our development work towards the goals of poverty reduction and the achievement of the international development targets. All our work is now geared to that end. Our commitment to a human rights-based

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approach to development is about giving people a stake in the political system of their countries--that is one of the key elements--and a say over decisions that affect their lives. That means helping countries to improve the effectiveness of governmental and administrative systems, supporting legal and judicial reforms such as those that have been asked for in the debate and providing support for action against corruption, to which hon. Members also referred.

In relation to corruption in particular, hon. Members should read the Government's reply to the Select Committee report:

Our work will help to build societies in which disputes can be managed peacefully rather than through violence. That is why we believe that our development and conflict prevention strategies are one and the same. Promoting sustainable development also means promoting the conditions for sustainable peace. The hon. Member for Richmond Park asked about Departments working together. I am pleased to tell her that the Department for International Development, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Ministry of Defence work closely together to tackle these areas.

My hon. Friend the Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington) referred to that work. We use diplomatic and other assets to detect, monitor and address rising tensions and, together, promote human rights, good governance, democratisation, working together, the rule of law, the development of strong and vibrant civil societies and sustainable economic growth, which benefits all sections of society. As he said, we are about to produce a target strategy paper on good governance which covers all those areas--corruption, accessible justice, the rule of law and conflict. Hon. Members, and members of the Select Committee in particular, will be able to contribute to the paper during the consultation.

A number of hon. Members concentrated on Africa, and the Department welcomes that concentration as it is one of our major areas of activity. Africa was compared with Kosovo: members of the Select Committee and other Members of Parliament are pressing us to take further action there, but it is wrong to compare one with the other. We have intensified and increased our activity and our spending in Africa, and hon. Members should recognise that. Africa currently accounts for half the armed conflicts in the world and is an example of the devastating impact of war. For example, it is estimated that about 50,000 people have died in the tragic war between Ethiopia and Eritrea. In Angola's civil war, 200 people a day are dying from war, hunger and disease, and about 1.7 million people are displaced. In Sierra Leone, upwards of 50,000 people have been killed and a quarter of the population has been displaced. More than 1 million people have died in the long-running civil war in Sudan, which hon. Members mentioned.

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I say to the hon. Members for Richmond Park and for Hertford and Stortford that Sudan is not forgotten and we are active there. The peace process is absolutely vital and we are the forefront in urging it on.

Dr. Tonge: Does the Minister think it wise to continue to refuse development aid to southern Sudan when the war is continuing and children are not even allowed any sort of educational aid? How can that part of the country be denied development aid when the war has gone on for so long?

Mr. Foulkes: As I have said to the hon. Lady before, where we do not work through Governments we can work through agencies, non-governmental organisations and the United Nations and its agencies. We continue to provide humanitarian aid.

Dr. Tonge: Not development aid.

Mr. Foulkes: That is another matter and we can discuss it on another occasion.

To ensure that we tackle conflicts in Africa in the most effective way, we are undertaking an innovative inter-departmental cross-cutting review of conflict in the continent. That will please the hon. Member for Richmond Park. The review is chaired by our Secretary of State, but includes representatives from the Departments that she mentioned, and its conclusions will be announced in due course as part of the 2000 review of public expenditure. I say to the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham that it took our Government to institute that review of Africa, although the previous Government could have done so.

Over the past two and a half years, we have moved into more controversial territory--conflict analysis, in which the Committee is particularly interested, security sector reform, post-conflict peacebuilding and small arms trafficking. There is also our collaboration with private sector business, which a number of Members raised. Those are all new issues taken up by the new Labour Government, although, again, the last Government could have done it.

Let us take conflict analysis, in which, as I said, the Committee has shown a particular interest. We are currently conducting conflict assessments in a number of countries--Moldova, Sri Lanka, Krgystan and Nepal. An explicit and systematic analysis of conflict will assist in the identification and design of development and emergency interventions that are sensitive to the dynamics of conflict, and will thus produce opportunities for contribution to long-term stability.

Security sector reform is also a priority for us. Participatory poverty assessments clearly show that the poor of the world place a high priority on security, justice and order, for the simple reason that without those things it is impossible for them to continue. A security sector that is well tasked and well managed serves the interests of all, especially the poor, but in too many countries a bloated security sector soaks up resources that would be used better elsewhere, while elements in that sector can be a major source of insecurity and human rights abuse.

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The security sector also tends to pose particular problems in post-conflict societies. In such circumstances, numerous ex-soldiers without employment or the prospect of employment are often waiting for long periods for the chance to return to a normal civilian life. If action is not taken to deal with that, there is a real prospect that demobilised soldiers will resort to violent crime, the underlying causes of conflict will be reactivated and full-scale civil war will recur.

Sierra Leone is a perfect example of the dilemma, and provides the first practical test of our work with the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign Office on security-sector reform. The signing of the Lome agreement gives Sierra Leone a chance of peace and development. As well as providing humanitarian assistance for those who have been made homeless by the war, Britain is giving emergency budgetary support to the attempt to sustain the essential functions of government and to implement the peace agreement. Just as we were the first and most generous donor in the case of the floods in Mozambique, we are the most active and generous in Sierra Leone. Members should acknowledge that.

Mr. Rowe: The Chairman of the Select Committee pointed out that a tremendous problem is the inadequate salary--or, indeed, lack of any salary--received by many public servants. We were told an extraordinary story. A policeman had been extracting food bribes at a road block, but it turned out that the poor chap, who had been put there by his Government, had received no food or salary for the preceding three weeks, and was dying of starvation. In a sense, it would not have been exactly corrupt of him to start asking for a bit of food from passers-by.

Mr. Foulkes: That is why we are putting more resources into Sierra Leone, and why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I have urged other countries to join us. This is not just Britain's responsibility, although we accept a great deal of the responsibility. Since March 1998, we have contributed more than £50 million to the post-conflict reconstruction and humanitarian needs of the people of Sierra Leone.

Sierra Leone demonstrates that many donor countries are happy to sign up to conflict prevention and peacebuilding in theory, but are deeply reluctant to engage in practice. That is often due to an unwillingness to become involved in what can be very risky environments. We acknowledge that we are all taking a risk in Sierra Leone, but it is right and worth while to do so, because the potential achievements and rewards are so great.

A number of Members raised the subject of arms exports and small-arms proliferation--in particular, the hon. Member for Richmond Park. Again, for 18 years under the last Government nothing was done, but action is now being taken, although--rightly--we are being pressurised to do more. We have received representations from the Select Committee, and, in July 1997, the Government announced new criteria for the assessment of arms-export applications. Arms exports are not permitted if they might be used for internal repression or external aggression, or if they would seriously undermine the sustainable development of the

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recipient country. Our Department is particularly concerned about that, and our criteria were incorporated in the European Union code of conduct that was adopted in 1998.

Ours has been the first British Government to publish annual reports on strategic export controls. We give details of the export licences that we have issued and those that we have refused to issue. That puts the United Kingdom at the forefront in terms of transparency on arms transfers.

The hon. Member for Richmond Park asked whether the Secretary of State would sign future reports. We are reviewing that in the light of recommendations made by the quadrilateral committee, in which members of the Select Committee participated. The hon. Lady also asked about arms trafficking and brokering. The new export control Bill will introduce tougher controls, and not before time. The Department of Trade and Industry is currently preparing draft legislation based on the White Paper on strategic export controls, and taking account of subsequent comments. After 18 years of no action, within less than three years action is being taken by this Government. [Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I have just heard a device go off. Madam Speaker deplores such activities. Anyone who has a bleeper switched on must either switch it off or take the batteries out.

Mr. Foulkes: Not only Madam Speaker deplores such activities; I do as well.

A number of Members mentioned military expenditure. We have just held a major seminar, bringing together representatives of developing countries, international financial institutions, other donors and non-governmental organisations, in order to encourage a more informed debate about the appropriate levels of such expenditure--and they need

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to be appropriate. Many developing countries divert resources into the military that would be much better spent on the basic social needs of the poor.

Mrs. Gillan: Because the device interrupted us, I did not hear the Minister say when the legislation would be introduced. Did he tell us?

Mr. Foulkes: The hon. Lady did not miss a thing. I said that it would be introduced as soon as possible.

Mrs. Gillan: When?

Mr. Foulkes: As soon as possible. The hon. Lady's Government had 18 years in which to act, and did not do a thing. We are acting within a much shorter period.

Our Department, working closely with the Foreign Office, is taking a greater role in the attempt to limit the means of waging war by acting to curb the proliferation of small arms and light weapons--another subject that was raised today. We are also trying to find out whether it is possible to curb the illicit trade in diamonds, which was mentioned by a number of Members and which has provided the funds to fuel and prolong conflicts in Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sierra Leone.

At an international level, the Government strongly support the European Union's programme to prevent and combat illicit trafficking in conventional arms. We are also working with the private sector--a new area for us. The project starts from the premise that conflict is bad for business, and that companies have much to gain from the development of effective conflict prevention strategies. Our primary aim will be to produce specific tools for companies to help them to develop such strategies.

I have not had time to answer all the questions that were asked, but, as I said earlier, I shall write to Members about the specific points that they raise. I thank members of the Select Committee for their report, which we think is a great step forward. We believe, however, that the Government are taking even greater steps forward: we believe that conflict undermines the poor people of the world, and that preventing it is one of the most important things that we in the Department and the Government can do.

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