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22 Mar 2007 : Column 335WH—continued

2.58 pm

John Battle (Leeds, West) (Lab): I thank the Chair of our Committee, the right hon. Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce), for gathering us around the topic, because I have learned from our inquiry that we must always hold the two issues of conflict and development together and study their interaction. The danger is when we think that conflict can be tackled and development follows; however, they interact all the time. The Government, in the first paragraph of their response, say:

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Excellent. They continue:

In an attempt to understand those matters, I add a caveat to that response. We must ensure that human security—a new concept in development—is not confined to a box called “military policing”, which perhaps includes ensuring that staff are protected in secure units, because it is separate from the work of dealing with people and their needs.

I say that because the expression that lies behind our report is “human security”, which is a new concept that has been creeping up in development circles. It first appeared in 1994 in the UN human development report. However, it is an ambivalent concept. I looked up “security” in the dictionary earlier today. The first definition was strange and referred to the ability to make sure that the flintlock on a gun could be worked. That implies that security is about arms and defending, but I want to look at security in a completely different way. I want to see it as the condition of being protected from danger and not exposed to it—as safeguarding a person from danger.

After the reference to protecting someone with a gun, there was another reference, by the poet of all poets, Shakespeare. He said that security was freedom from distrust and fear. I am interested in that concept and in shifting from external security and the state to the security of individuals in communities. If I were to say how we ought to move on from our report and the Government’s response, I would stress that we need to do more work in communities on conflict resolution and peacebuilding, and not rely on the top-down approach of getting the state right. In some ways, I play it almost the opposite way round to the right hon. Gentleman—in one sense, not enough attention to institutions and too much attention to individuals.

We also need to pay detailed attention to the practical work of conflict resolution and peacebuilding in communities as part of development work as a whole. As we all know, violent conflict in the 1990s displaced 20 million people in Africa and killed more than 6 million people. More than half the countries of Africa and 20 per cent. of all their populations were affected by conflict. The Government’s latest and welcome report, “Preventing Violent Conflict”, says:

In other words, we face an ongoing challenge. It is not a case of clearing up a conflict and moving on to development, as we have heard in the case of Kinshasa and elsewhere. We have an ongoing challenge to work at. There is not a cat in hell’s chance of our reaching the great millennium development goals in conditions of conflict.

Paul Collier, a professor at the Centre for the Study of African Economies at Oxford university, published a paper entitled “Development and Conflict”. He gave a lot of evidence to the Committee and his work has
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been referred to many times. There are two passages from his work that I should like to quote:

The action is two-way and does not quickly go away. That is why, to put it crudely, it would be no good if half of DFID’s money, or a large chunk of it, went on providing armed guards for DFID’s staff to go out—I am not suggesting that it does—but we were not attending to the work in communities on long-term conflict resolution. We need to redress the balance. Professor Paul Collier also said:

Poverty is part of that relapse, but so are the underlying causes of conflicts. We have to work on both together.

The human development report of 1994 defined “security” as

I would add another concept to that. In all our societies, we should try to lift the culture of fear and terrorism from the heads of the people, wherever it exists. Where people live in fear, they turn against their neighbours in violence. That is the theoretical discussion, as it were. The issue is not just about conflict as greed and grievance, but about what we do to lift fear from the hearts and minds of the people, particularly the poorest.

The Government response from 19 December is obviously right. It is state focused, concentrating on conflict-prone and conflict-affected states. DFID employs people who work with non-governmental organisations, victims—including rape victims, whom we saw in the countries we visited—refugees and hospitals. However, it might also be worth investing more resources in the work of peacebuilding, and understanding it as part of development work, alongside the other work of capacity building, the engagement of women, community development, and the provision of water and sanitation, health care and education. Conflict resolution and peacebuilding should be part of the whole package.

I refer hon. Members and DFID to a report that I have found quite illuminating entitled “Peacebuilding”, which is a manual published by Caritas Internationalis. It is a workbook aimed mainly at NGO workers engaged in reconciliation in local communities. The NGO world has started to move into the field, as part of its understanding of the need to get to the roots of the problems that people face. The report also reminds us that people have been studying the concepts of peacebuilding, conflict resolution and reconciliation, and practising those skills for years in many, many societies. We need to catch up, both in DFID and in our thinking towards the policy.

When a conflict ends, children have particular needs. As well as needing food, water, shelter and security, they also need healing—often physically, but they are sometimes psychologically wounded, too—and a
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return to family and community and a resumption of their schooling. The work of conflict resolution and peacebuilding is a long-term project of building peaceful, stable communities and societies.

In that sense, peacebuilding, conflict resolution and development are now intimately interlinked and should be so in the budgets and staff work of DFID, the NGOs and other donors. The UN has set up its Peacebuilding Commission, which operates at the level of Governments. I hope that it will also be encouraged to involve local civil society, so that it is not seen as taking just a top-down approach, but builds on the experience in local communities and pools best practice. I should like to finish this point with another reminder from Paul Collier. He has pointed out that the average cost of a civil war is $54 billion. That wipes out not only DFID’s budget of £6 billion a year, but almost the whole of the aid budget from the entire donor community. One conflict can wipe out all that effort, so it is worth our investing in getting at the roots of a conflict, tackling them and working from the ground up. In other words, prevention is the key.

Our Chairman asked me to say a few words about Sierra Leone, because some of us visited it on behalf of the Committee in February. Three years had passed since the end of the conflict. We found the country relatively peaceful, although 500,000 farming families had been displaced. The production of the staple rice crop had fallen to about 20 per cent. of pre-war levels. The impact of that on poverty and rebuilding speaks for itself in pure economic terms. We met not only officials from the Government in Sierra Leone and development workers, but community leaders in Koidu. Their emphasis was on good governance, accountability, decentralisation and becoming engaged in supporting people locally. As well as asking about the classic development issues of schooling and health care, those community leaders wanted to know what supportive measures could be implemented in their communities for long-term development. To reinforce what my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock) said, the heartbeat of community development—not only in Africa, but everywhere—is usually women, who build up communities. They are asking, “Where is the support and investment that we need to do the work on the ground?”

In Freetown, I stepped out for a while and sat on a wall with some lads who had come in from the rural areas, as many do after conflicts. They had been invited to bring in their guns. We often say, “Get the lads to hand over their guns and we’ll give them $5 for them.” As we all know, these occasions are a bit of a scam, because people get others to collect a few guns for them and then go back for a few more, while someone else will run guns over the border. In that way, everyone makes a bit of money just handing in guns. We talked about that as a strategy for getting rid of guns, because it was a bit rudimentary and certainly not the best strategy.

What did those young men say to me? There is a line about that in our report, but it is one that I am not sure we have got right. We suggest:

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In other words, those lads had come to the town to give in their guns and were hanging around, and my impression from chatting to them was that they did not have work. They wanted to know where they would get money if they were not handing in guns and where they would work. I did not get too many signals that they were going to return home to their villages, because they were getting a taste of town life. Given that the dynamic in the world is for the population of towns to increase—everyone is drifting to the towns—we must look at the urban provision of employment for young men.

If we are to decrease the possibilities of further conflict in Sierra Leone, it is important that we look not only at agriculture, but at employment strategies, including investment in jobs and training for people in Freetown, and I would welcome the Secretary of State’s comments on that. I say that because we do not have a clear answer. In the past, the Committee has pushed DFID to do more on agriculture, and my right hon. Friend might well turn to me and say, “Now you’re telling me to concentrate on employment in the towns and cities.” What we do know, however, is that most people will live in cities in the future, and that is where the tensions are.

This problem is not limited to Africa, and I am tempted to say that such tensions and conflicts exist in our own inner cities. This is not a one-way street, with us telling people in Africa how to sort out their conflicts, because there are conflicts in our own neighbourhoods. We would do well to compare notes and have rather more of a north-south, south-north conversation about how to address the tensions, strains and stresses of dealing with conflict internationally and locally. Obviously, that also relates to guns and violence.

A paragraph on page 13 of the Government’s response refers to small arms. The Committee’s recommendations refer to the fact that

a reference to Somalia at that time. The Government’s response states:

and we would all agree with that. The Government continue:

I would welcome it if the Secretary of State could say a little more about that.

I said that handing in guns was not all that successful, although it was successful in one way, because more were handed in than were not. However, 650 million small arms are in circulation in the world, and those numbers are fed by a trade in arms, including small arms, that is worth more than $4 billion a year. Selling guns to people is therefore really big business. I am
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worried that young men who stand round without work will start fighting and that it will not be too hard for them to pick up a gun. They will then start shooting each other, form a few gangs and, before long, we will be back with a failed state and a conflict situation. It is therefore important that we work to remove small arms.

That takes us back to the Chairman’s remarks about the tie-up with the Department of Trade and Industry. The Quadripartite Committee is an important Committee, which links DFID, the Ministry of Defence, the DTI and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, but I am not sure that we are making enough progress on it. We should do more to get small arms out of the system, and that should be seen as part of the work of development—not as a sideshow as we try simply to reduce the arms industry. Small arms are intrinsic to fostering future conflicts—they are one of the primary causes or catalysts that enable them to happen. Although DFID does indeed employ conflict advisers and spends money on their work and on security staff, which is to be welcomed, it could do more to spell that out.

Paragraph 45 of DFID’s latest report, “Preventing Violent Conflict”, states:

That statement is most welcome, particularly if it means that the Government will take a rather more proactive approach to conflict resolution and peacekeeping and see them as intrinsic to development work. That would mean that we had moved on a notch from the situation that existed when the Committee published its report. As the Chairman said, the report does not cover all conflicts in the world, but it insists that we must take the two challenges of development and conflict together. If we can find new ways of addressing them together, we might make some progress, and the world might be a slightly calmer and—dare I say?—less fearful and safer place.

3.16 pm

John Barrett (Edinburgh, West) (LD): It is a delight to follow the right hon. Member for Leeds, West (John Battle), who has covered a number of the issues on which I hope to expand—particularly the availability of small arms. As someone who has attended the Quadripartite Committee for several years, I know that we should follow up some of the information that has been given, and I shall raise some of those points later.

I am sad to say that when the International Development Committee decided to deal with conflict and development, there was no shortage of countries that we could have visited. In the end, we visited the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda and Sierra Leone, but we could equally have gone to Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan. Recently, we have also been to Palestine and the occupied territories. Aid, development and post-conflict reconstruction are all linked in those countries. In each of them, there are always problems with food security, water, sanitation, health care and education, and all those are exacerbated by fear and involvement in conflict.

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I was as pleased as anyone to see the Secretary of State’s assertion in last year’s Department for International Development White Paper that anyone who cares about development must also care about conflict resolution. In its report, the Committee stated that that link between conflict and development is a relatively new issue in development policy, but it is one of the most important. The Secretary of State will be well aware that new aid commitments could be all but wiped out by an increase in conflict in developing countries. Security is an absolutely basic precondition for development, which is why the Committee’s report, the Government response and today’s debate are so important.

The cost of conflict is measured in human suffering and financial terms, but it is sometimes difficult to put a figure on the costs. It is not always easy to count the bodies, and it is also hard to count the disabled, the amputees and the injured. It is more difficult to count the cost of the impact of war on traumatised children who have witnessed atrocities or have been forced to become child soldiers. That can involve killing or witnessing the deaths of others, sometimes including their own families.

Tens of thousands of child soldiers—girls and boys—were used in the armed forces of more than 60 countries between 200l and 2004, with at least 30,000 of those children fighting in the DRC, 20,000 fighting in Uganda and 17,000 fighting in Colombia. Girls fight as well as boys—as I have said, there are an estimated 12,000 girl soldiers in the DRC. Their future development, whether in health, education or elsewhere, is a key challenge for development policy. My hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Lynne Featherstone) will concentrate on a number of those issues when she sums up. It is impossible to measure the long-term emotional cost of having lived through war or genocide and the economic cost of missed opportunities which might have been taken had those conflicts not taken place.

The financial costs are difficult to define. We heard in a Select Committee evidence session that the average cost of a conflict could be in the region of $50 billion. As I have said, those costs are not only financial. Last week, one of my constituents asked me what the cost of the war in Iraq had been. Those figures make grim reading: approximately £5 billion has been spent on the UK invasion and occupation and 34,000—possibly more—civilians have died since the war began. That is only one of the affected states.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce) has mentioned, we had an interesting discussion with Sundeep Waslekar, the president of the Strategic Foresight Group, in the Select Committee earlier this week. He outlined various countries with track records as breeding grounds for terrorists, or other groups that might be inclined to violence or conflict. Whether we were talking about Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka or elsewhere, one common thread ran through our discussions—conflict and poverty are inextricably linked.

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