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22 Mar 2007 : Column 348WH—continued

That goes back once again to the issue about the word “resolved”. It might all sound fine and dandy, but I ask the question again and urge the Secretary of State to tell us what the UK specifically is doing to address the illegal exploitation of natural resources by British companies and companies linked to Britain.

The report produced pretty damaging evidence of the British Government not doing enough, especially in respect of the examples of Afrimex and Alfred Knight. Are those two companies the tip of an iceberg? Are many more British companies involved in such places? What companies are involved in extractive industries in conflict-affected states? What revenue do the host countries receive from such companies for those natural resources? How are such things monitored by the British Government? What do they do to ensure that British companies stick to the rules? What level of resource do the Government commit to ensuring that British or British-linked companies play by the rules? It is our responsibility to put pressure on British companies or businesses that work with regimes under conflict conditions. Clashes between the DTI and DFID not only make nonsense of post-conflict peacebuilding, but seem to deepen and perpetuate instability.

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The report cites UK-based businesses, and yet it is clear that the Government have not driven through stated policies. I hope that the Secretary of State will explain what appears to be a lack of action and rigour on their part. Furthermore, the Government’s response to paragraph 119 made it clear:

Outside of our need to promote responsible business contact in countries with weak governance, we need to promote responsible business conduct here. We are a country that has not managed a single prosecution under the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development guidelines.

I want DFID to co-operate more with the DTI, the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on the review of the Export Control Act 2002 and the arms trade treaty. We need a strong international arms trade treaty to tighten up the Act. Without systematic enforcement, arms embargoes will remain statements of aspirations. If we are serious about defending human rights and preventing conflict, we must crack down on the trafficking of weapons. I want the Government to throw their full diplomatic weight behind a treaty. One is urgently needed because conflict and post-conflict cannot be tackled in isolation from an arms trade treaty and the review of the Act.

This is difficult territory. No one is saying that stabilising countries, peacemaking and post-conflict reconstruction are easy, but they become much more difficult if we are not straight with ourselves and if the stated aims of Departments conflict or if we ourselves are not above suspicion.

I was surprised and delighted when the business community condemned the suspension of the investigation into the deals that shamed us in the al-Yamamah case. Sceptic that I am, I suppose that for a moment I thought that the approach of business people would be, “Nod, nod, wink, wink. That is how the world works. Fine ideas are okay so long as they remain fine ideas and do not impinge on our trade—we do not stop any practice if trade would be damaged.” However, the business community stood up to be counted, because Britain’s reputation for proper and above-board trading is more important and brings us more benefit than the seamier side of life. We must ensure that we are beyond reproach and that our own house is in good order. Ensuring that that is the case with British companies involved in conflict areas is a good starting point.

Once again, I congratulate the International Development Committee on raising key issues in peacebuilding and post-conflict resolution.

3.51 pm

Mr. Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield) (Con): This has been an interesting and worthwhile debate. The Secretary of State will undoubtedly want to cover many of the points that have already been raised, and I intend to raise a few more. At the outset, I want to say to the Chairman of the International Development Committee, the right hon. Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce), that this is an excellent report. It makes a serious
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contribution to international development, and it is just one reason why his Select Committee is regarded as such a constructive and effective Committee in this House. We look forward to many more such reports in the future.

Several hon. Members made important and interesting comments about the Congo. Leaving on one side the news that has come through today, I hope to visit that country with War Child, an excellent charity that specifically tries to address several of the issues that were raised by the Chairman of the Select Committee and the right hon. Member for Leeds, West (John Battle).

I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Milton Keynes (Mr. Lancaster). He and I visited World Vision, which is in his constituency, only this week. It is a truly excellent organisation. He spoke today from his hands-on experience in delivering aid and effective help in Afghanistan and raised several points. I hope that the Secretary of State will use this opportunity to comment on, for example, the effectiveness of the relationship between the Department for International Development and the Ministry of Defence. What is actually happening on the ground? The two Departments represent the different ways in which Britain seeks to help, in contrast with some other countries that help with development in Afghanistan. For example, I believe that Britain channels more aid through budgetary support than some other countries. Perhaps the Secretary of State could give us a feel for how he thinks things are going, in particular how we might improve some of the relationships on the ground that have been discussed by my hon. Friend, and in other arenas.

The hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Lynne Featherstone) discussed an important area that had not been mentioned hitherto in the debate. Education in conflict states is hugely challenging, but we are talking about some of the most disadvantaged children in the world. I was speaking recently to Jasmine Whitbread, the head of Save the Children, who, along with her colleagues, has taken a special interest in this area. I join her in urging the Government to think again about whether there are other ways in which we can deliver help effectively in the important area of education in conflict states.

The Opposition recognise the work that DFID is doing in conflict prevention and post-conflict reconstruction, and we acknowledge that in many areas its approach to tackling conflict sets a precedent for other international bodies. That is very welcome. We also welcome the fact that work in areas affected by conflict has increased in recent years, and that conflict policy issues have become more pronounced on the DFID agenda. An obvious example of that was the launch last week of DFID’s first conflict policy paper, “Preventing Violent Conflict”. It is clear from reading it that the work of the International Development Committee has not gone unnoticed by the Government. I hope that it will now lead to a more coherent and effective approach to conflict. It is also clear that there is still much to be done in this relatively new field of development, and that if the millennium development goals are to be reached by 2015, conflict must be yet further prioritised on the DFID agenda.

As many have said today, and as the Select Committee report makes clear, there is an inextricable link and
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relationship between conflict and development. It was spelled out by the right hon. Member for Leeds, West. Anyone who works in this area and takes an interest in such matters, and who watched, for example, the destruction of bridges and so on in Lebanon during the conflict in that country, understands that. Those of us who take an interest in such issues saw not only the destruction of a valuable asset but the barriers to development that resulted from it. We thought of the cost of replacing the bridge—a very real factor—as it literally went up in smoke.

Simply put, we cannot achieve development without security. There can be no poverty alleviation, no malaria or HIV/AIDS drugs programmes and no democracy if there is conflict. That point is plainly illustrated by the fact that 22 of the 34 countries that are furthest away from reaching the millennium development goals are in, or emerging from, conflict. For example, to the poor children and families who live in camps in Darfur—the leader of the Conservative party, my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron), and I met such a family last year—it really does not matter how much aid they receive or how much trade they could benefit from; they will remain poor and destitute, frightened and bitter, until the conflict and the shooting stop. That is the case not only in places such as Darfur, to which I shall return in a moment.

I think of a visit that I made recently to a camp on the Burmese border at Ei Tu Hta on the Salween river. Any Member of this House who visited that camp would react with fury at the sight of what is happening in that part of the world and would return to this House determined to redouble their efforts to bring attention to difficult areas—areas in which DFID and its staff are making a tremendous impact.

I draw the Secretary of State’s attention to what is happening in Burma. DFID’s work, such as that through the three diseases fund, can have a huge impact. On a separate aspect of my visit to Burma, I saw how, through the deployment of money, international support and expertise, we can help prevent HIV/AIDS from reaching epidemic proportions in that benighted country. The disease is already reaching epidemic proportions in the vulnerable communities of gay men and sex workers, but there is still a chance for that country, which has to put up with so much, to avoid epidemic levels of HIV/AIDS. I very much hope that the Secretary of State will continue to scale up the support that we are able to give to organisations that are carrying out extremely valuable work in Burma.

Malcolm Bruce: The hon. Gentleman told me about his trip to the Burmese border. Members of the Select Committee intend to visit the Thai-Burmese border in May, and we are anxious to follow up some of his examples, so that through the engagement of all parties, we can help to deliver some solutions. We appreciate his visit and were well informed by it. I hope that we will be able to follow it up in some effective way.

Mr. Mitchell: I am grateful for what the right hon. Gentleman has said. It is tremendously important that his Committee visits the Burmese border. As I have
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said, when he and other hon. Members see what the people have had to put up with, it will make their blood boil. Now is not the time to speak further on that except to point out that, in terms of the work of the Committee, there are countries where active conflict is continuing and less active conflict is taking place, both of which are covered by the recommendations of the report.

I shall return to what I was saying about Darfur. While the conflict rages in Darfur, development cannot take place. In many areas, there are serious regressions. In one internally displaced person’s camp, the World Health Organisation found a daily child mortality rate of 6.7 per 10,000 people, which is many times higher than the normal rate. Médecins sans Frontières says that, in certain towns, malnutrition rates are far in excess of the normal rate and, in some cases, current rates are 25 per cent. global acute malnutrition and 5 per cent. severe acute malnutrition. In other internally displaced people camps, such as in Mumei, which has about 80,000 internally displaced persons, 200 children and adults are dying from diarrhoea every month. Again, I say to the Secretary of State that we are waiting for further action to be taken by the international community on the desperate crisis in Darfur, about which we read every day.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): I apologise for not being in for most of the debate; I was attending a sitting of a Bill Committee. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that one of the most horrendous issues that must be addressed in Darfur is the targeting of those who work for non-governmental organisations? The Secretary of State will no doubt talk about that, as the reality is that insecurity on the land among the people per se is made much worse when NGOs cannot carry out their business and have to withdraw.

Mr. Mitchell: I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman. When I was there at the end of November, those involved in humanitarian aid and relief made it absolutely clear that the number of areas to which they were or had been denied access was increasing all the time. Targeting such organisations is an insidious policy pursued directly by the regime in Khartoum to make life more difficult for the people living in the circumstances that I have described.

I will return to the point made by a number of speakers that conflict directly eats up the aid budget. As the right hon. Member for Leeds, West has said, it is estimated that the cost of a typical civil war is more than $50 billion. As the report points out:

On top of that, when it is considered that half of post-conflict societies relapse into conflict within a decade, it becomes clear that more attention needs to be paid to conflict-affected countries. Addressing the issue of conflict and its negative effects on development ultimately makes good economic sense. That is made more pressing by the fact that conflict is likely to increase over the next 50 years because of a decrease in natural resources, which has been further exacerbated by climate change. People in the developing world will be likely to suffer most as climate change will make the
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resources that they depend on, such as fresh water, forests and fisheries more scarce. That will have grave humanitarian consequences.

Oxfam predicts that 30 million more people could be at risk of famine as a result of climate change. The demand for essential natural resources will most likely exacerbate tensions within countries and we are already seeing that around the developing world. For example, a contributing factor to the conflict in Darfuris the change in rainfall that pitted nomadic herders against settled farmers. Conflicts over resources within countries could easily turn into conflicts between countries, either directly through clashes between Governments over a resource, such as a shared river, or indirectly through the pressure of refugees crossing borders. No wonder it is estimated that by 2020, the number of deaths and injuries from war and violence will overtake the numbers of deaths caused by killer diseases such as malaria and measles.

Conflict resolution is therefore probably the most important aspect of international development. We need to stop conflict before it starts and where it has already started. We also need to work towards reconciliation of the parties. It is in the interests of the developed and developing countries to help to create stability. In looking at conflicts that have ended and reconciliation that is taking place, I pay tribute to the work that British aid is enabling in Rwanda.

At the moment, the UN is the main way to achieve conflict resolution, although it needs to recognise that the nature of conflict has changed from disputes that cross country borders to situations of conflict within a country. One of the ways in which we can help to achieve conflict resolution is to rely more on regional organisations. We should pay greater attention to strengthening regional peacekeeping bodies, such as the African Union, mainly because successful outcomes are much more likely if such bodies have the support of those affected by the conflict. That is often more likely if the peacekeeping is home-grown rather than imposed by outsiders. We therefore need to devote significant resources to enable the African Union to act quickly, effectively and decisively to prevent and resolve conflict.

The African Union’s presence in Darfur speaks to its desire to prevent another Rwanda on its continent. Its recent decision to deny its rotating chairmanship to the Sudanese Government—a stinging and humiliating rebuke—offers more evidence of its resolve. However, at the moment the African Union remains terribly ill-equipped, as indicated by the fact that it can muster only 7,000 troops for Darfur and many of those men, despite support from the British taxpayer, have gone through periods when they have not been paid for many months. In Britain, we have a unique opportunity to harness the extraordinary skill and experience of peacekeeping that we have to assist in capacity building with organisations such as the African Union.

I shall now pick out some of the salient points made in the debate today and in the report. Much attention has been paid to the process of conflict assessment, and rightly so. If one is to develop an effective approach to preventing and assisting recovery from conflict, assessment is crucial. As we have heard, the Government’s main tool for that is the strategic conflict
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assessment, which was established in 2001. So far, assessments have been conducted in 18 countries, of which only five were in Africa—Angola, Mozambique, Nigeria, Uganda and Zimbabwe. Admittedly, strategic conflict assessment is a fairly new tool, but there is still much room for improvement, especially in how systematically and extensively it is used. It is crucial that it is used more extensively because the causes of each conflict are specific to that particular region. Normally, one cannot transpose methods that were successful in one region to another and assessments must be re-evaluated regularly to ensure that, after a conflict, our aid is focused in an appropriate way for each phase of reconstruction.

The Committee drew attention to Sierra Leone, where the Government have failed to re-evaluate their aid sequencing. The Government rightly provided poverty reduction budget support immediately after the conflict to satisfy Sierra Leone’s desperate need for extensive investment in reconstruction.However, a few years on, the continuing provision of that budget support may be entrenching the powers of the political elite and limiting the incentive for them to implement urgently needed governance reforms. Perhaps, the Secretary of State could say something about that.

It is also important that such assessments are not solely carried out in countries that are recently recovering from conflict, but that they are also used as preventive measures.They should be conducted in countries that are at peace, but which have potential sources of tension that could be headed off.

John Battle: It may also be worth keeping an eye on the politics in Sierra Leone. Through DFID, we have a 10-year arrangement with the Government in Sierra Leone, but the elections will be in July this year. Some of our Committee received representations from the Opposition, who asked if we could keep an eye on good politics and governance because otherwise things could go wrong.

Mr. Mitchell: I agree with the right hon. Gentleman. The point that I am making would help to ensure that DFID engages with those countries without exacerbating latent points of conflict.

The Opposition welcome the proposed focus on conflict in DFID’s country governance assessments. Although aid has the potential to promote security and development, it can also create and aggravate tensions. When aid is irresponsibly allocated to countries that are experiencing an ongoing conflict, or to countries that have recently emerged from conflict, it can often create more problems than it solves. For example, direct budget support given to a Government who significantly marginalise or exclude a certain sector of society will inevitably result in that exclusion being further entrenched. There is a large possibility that some form of conflict could subsequently emerge as a result of that segregation.

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