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Government amendments in lieu of the Lords amendments agreed to.

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Motion made , and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.— [Mr. Cawsey.]

5.16 pm

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Margaret Beckett): I welcome this debate. The situation in Sudan, and in Darfur in particular, is of immense concern to all of us in this House. More than that, it is a tragedy about which the people of this country and, indeed, people all over the world feel deeply and passionately. They expect—and have the right to expect—that the UK Government and the international community will rise to the challenge and that we will do all that we can to end the suffering of the Sudanese people.

I have no doubt that during today's debate most Members, quite understandably, will choose to focus upon Darfur. However, we cannot afford to neglect the rest of Sudan. The civil war between the north and south lasted 20 years and during that conflict up to 2 million people were killed. A fragile peace was put in place in 2005 with the signing of the comprehensive peace agreement. That agreement provided for a Government of National Unity in Khartoum and for the Government of Southern Sudan under President Salva Kiir in Juba. Since then, the peace has held—but we should not take it for granted, nor assume that we have yet achieved a genuine and lasting settlement.

If the comprehensive peace agreement were to fall apart, Sudan would risk slipping back into a maelstrom of violence and chaos more intense even than that which we see today. So while we focus on Darfur, we cannot forget our responsibility to work and to keep working with international partners to keep the comprehensive peace agreement on the international agenda.

The UN has described the situation in Darfur as the greatest humanitarian crisis in the world—and there is hefty competition for that slot. Many thousands have been killed, raped or wounded, more than 2 million people are displaced, and as many as 4 million people—two thirds of the population—are dependent on international aid for food and basic needs. Stark statistics indeed, but they can convey only a little of the immense human misery that is being visited upon the people of Darfur.

We, the United Nations and the international community have to act. It was only last year that, for the first time, the concept of responsibility to protect was acknowledged in a country-specific UN resolution. That country was Sudan and that region was Darfur. If the concept of responsibility to protect is to mean anything, it must mean something in Darfur. The moral obligation upon the world community to find a way to protect the people of Darfur is heavy. It is both the foundation and the fulcrum of all our actions. However, there are questions of regional and international stability at stake, too. In its search for a way to fulfil that moral obligation, the international community needs the Government of Sudan to be an ally. We need to work together on issues of mutual importance such as migration and counter-terrorism, and we need a stable Sudan for a stable region.

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Mr. Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth, East) (Con): The Secretary of State spoke of 20 years of civil war. Britain has some responsibility for originally drawing up the borders of Sudan, a country that contains a number of very different communities. Has the Secretary of State given any thought to a velvet revolution, allowing Sudan to fragment peacefully rather than through civil war?

Margaret Beckett: Such issues come up for discussion from time to time, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is aware that Sudan is only one of many parts of the world where Britain has a responsibility for border issues, which nowadays bedevil many countries. I take on board his point, but it might at present be a diversion to address it. There are higher priorities in tackling the existing situation than the means he suggests.

Mr. Sadiq Khan (Tooting) (Lab): I commend my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development on the work that they are doing and on securing the first debate on this matter on the Floor of the House. She expressed frustration at the lack of action by the Government of Sudan, but does she share the frustration felt by me and others at what appears to be a lack of action by some African Governments and at the apparent impotence of the United Nations?

Margaret Beckett: I do, and that is partly why I say that there is a heavy obligation on the international community. I accept that that responsibility has not yet been discharged with the vigour and effectiveness that we would wish.

The conflict in Sudan is already spilling over into Chad and the Central African Republic, and the conflict in Uganda spills into Sudan. If we cannot end the violence, we will not be able to address the underlying issues that must be resolved if there is to be long-term stability in the region. Those issues include resource pressures—which are made worse through climate change—poor governance and economic stagnation.

The UK has done much to help to address the problems of Darfur—not least through my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development and my Foreign Office colleague Lord Triesman, to both of whom I pay tribute. Our goals are those supported by the United Nations and the African Union and set out in last year’s agreement in Addis Ababa: an immediate and strengthened ceasefire, a renewed political process and an effective hybrid African Union-United Nations peacekeeping force.

Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): Is my right hon. Friend satisfied with the Government of Sudan’s actions in relation to that hybrid UN-African force?

Margaret Beckett: No, and I do not think anyone can be. I will return to that matter. The Government of Sudan committed to accepting such a force, but, as with so many other issues, they have not yet followed through on that commitment.

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Malcolm Bruce (Gordon) (LD): Given that we have undertaken to train soldiers for the Sudanese peacekeeping effort and we have provided comfort for Sudanese Ministers requiring health treatment, if the Sudan Government have not honoured their obligations should we not make it clear that our agreements to support them cannot continue either?

Margaret Beckett: We constantly search for ways to make our concerns clear to the Government of Sudan and also to make those concerns felt—although hitherto without as much success as might be wished.

In support of the goals that I have identified, we have taken specific and targeted action: we have committed more than £73 million of bilateral funds to the African Union peacekeeping force, which is a substantial proportion of its funding; we have contributed more than £250 million in humanitarian assistance to Sudan; and we supported the implementation of an agreement between the Government of Sudan and the UN to allow full humanitarian access for non-governmental organisations operating in Darfur.

The UK has also been a leading voice in building an international consensus on Darfur. We sponsored the UN resolution in March 2005 that referred Darfur to the International Criminal Court, and on 2 May 2007 the ICC announced that it would issue arrest warrants in connection with alleged atrocities in Darfur. We have successfully encouraged China to play a more positive role in Sudan; indeed, that was one of the main themes of my visit to China two weeks ago. We have built up European support for tough measures and persuaded EU partners to give further funding for the African Union peacekeepers. Here, I should say that we are working particularly closely with the new French Government.

We have also made sure that Darfur remains in the international spotlight. During our presidency of the UN Security Council, for example, I hosted a meeting in New York designed to maintain the momentum towards political agreement. The meeting was attended by all the major players in both the African Union—including its chair, Dr. Konaré—and in the UN, including the Secretary-General and his staff and special representatives. Those efforts—and those of many others—have led to some progress in Darfur.

Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): Does the Foreign Secretary think that China will now support a no-fly zone over Darfur? Some progress has been made with China, but the difficulty is that international law is dependent on the most obdurate member of the Security Council. Although progress has been made, it is still very slow.

Margaret Beckett: No, I cannot give the hon. Gentleman that assurance. As he knows, the idea of a no-fly zone has been mooted on many occasions, and there are concerns about, as well as support for, that. Whether the Government of China would support such a move I am not sure, but they certainly are—not for the first time, to be fair—taking more positive steps and have appointed, as the hon. Gentleman will know, a special representative.

Dr. Nick Palmer (Broxtowe) (Lab): I am following my right hon. Friend’s remarks with great interest. Does she accept that in this country, at least, there is very broad support for more effective international
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action? We realise the difficulties that the Government have in achieving that, because it depends on so many other countries, but even those who are critical of our role in certain other countries are very keen that we should play as positive a role as possible in promoting action here.

Margaret Beckett: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention and he is right: many communities across the world are extremely exercised about the position in Darfur and are pressing all of us to be more effective.

Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con): The Secretary of State has mentioned the European Union, China and the African Union, but what interaction has she had with the Arab League regarding Sudan? Sudan is, I believe, a member of the Arab League, and that body is obviously likely to be able to put more pressure on Sudan.

Margaret Beckett: I can honestly say that all kinds of people have had interaction with the Arab League about this matter. It, too, has sought to be helpful and supportive and has been engaged in applying pressure, but none of these efforts has hitherto had as much effect as all of us would have wished and hoped. I think that one can honestly say that none of those potential players is indifferent to or opposed to this combination of actions; it is just that it has not yet been effective.

As I was saying, there has been some progress. The first United Nations peacekeeping personnel are already in the region and more are due to arrive shortly, acting in support of the current African Union mission. The next stage, as the House has said, is to build a functioning hybrid UN-AU force of up to 17,000 peacekeepers. Such a hybrid force has never been tried before, and the AU and the UN have been tasked with coming up with proposals on how it should work. We are now pressing those organisations to finalise and agree the details and to communicate them effectively to the Government of Sudan, so that that force can be deployed as quickly as possible.

There has also been some positive movement on the political front. That is important because only a viable political process and peace agreement can resolve the crisis. Envoys for the African Union and the United Nations are now leading a new political process that is designed to bring in all the rebel groups. That is vital because, as the House will recall, the Darfur peace agreement signed in May last year did not get the broad-based support from rebel groups and the Darfur population that it needed.

Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): President Bush recently described the situation in Darfur as being akin to genocide. Is that a term that the Foreign Secretary would use for the situation? If it is genocide, surely we need to up our activity and push for the most robust set of international sanctions possible.

Margaret Beckett: That is not the term that has been used internationally. There are always anxieties, sensitivities and disagreements about whether a set of events amounts to genocide, but whether or not we
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apply that label, there is no dispute that the course of action that the hon. Gentleman urges is the one that everyone supports and wants to be pursued.

Mr. Ellwood: Will the Foreign Secretary give way?

Margaret Beckett: The hon. Gentleman has had one go. If he will forgive me, I wish to make some progress.

We have been in regular contact with the envoys and we have engaged with the key regional players—Libya, Eritrea, Egypt and Chad—to ensure that they support the political process. The envoys have now presented a set of proposals—a draft roadmap—designed to allow all sides, including all the rebel groups, to engage in negotiations. It provides for mechanisms that will give the people of Darfur a say in what the final agreement will look like. However, as I have said already in response to interventions, although there has been some progress, there has not been nearly enough progress. That is what concerns the Government, the House and the people of this country.

Despite President Bashir’s repeated assurances to the international community that he would implement the conclusions of the Addis Ababa meeting, he has not done so. Indeed, he has sent more aircraft to bomb the people of Darfur. There have been continued attacks on civilians, peacekeepers and the humanitarian agencies, and those agencies are now warning that their basic ability to carry out their work is in jeopardy. It is fair to say that the Sudanese Government do not take the sole blame for the appalling situation. I am sorry to tell the House that all sides are violating the ceasefire. As the UN human rights mission to Sudan has reported, all sides are guilty of gross and systematic violations of human rights and breaches of international humanitarian law.

In the face of a tragedy of such horror and complexity, the response of the international community must be to do more, not less—to redouble our efforts, not wash our hands. To that end, we in this country will continue to work in support of the humanitarian agencies so that they can do their vital job helping the people of Darfur. I welcome the recent launch of the Disasters Emergency Committee appeal for Darfur and Chad, and I commend the work of the agencies in what is possibly one of the most challenging environments they face. We will work with partners in the European Union to provide further funding for the African Union mission. At the same time we will keep up the pressure on the African Union and the United Nations—as requested several times in this debate already—to deliver an effective hybrid peacekeeping force. When such a force is agreed, we will help to fund it and encourage others to contribute money and troops. We will also push all sides to make progress on the political process. We will make it clear that there can be no impunity for the atrocities committed in Darfur and we will support the International Criminal Court. We will continue to pressure those who have influence in Sudan—many of whom have been mentioned in the debate today—to play a positive role in resolving the conflict. As I have said, China, Egypt and Libya are key.

In the final analysis, however, it is those involved in the conflict who can and must end it. Only they can ultimately bring peace and security to Darfur. The African Union and the United Nations have drawn up
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the outlines of a political process. The agreement in Addis Ababa has laid a framework for peacekeeping. Now, all sides in the conflict face a choice—commit to that process and support that framework or face the consequences. For the Government of Sudan, that will mean co-operating fully with the African Union and the United Nations. It means an end to the killing of innocent civilians and a clear signal that those who commit atrocities will be brought to justice. It means helping humanitarian workers to operate freely and securely so that they can bring effective relief to the Sudanese people. We should be clear with the Government of Sudan about what they have to gain if they choose that path. Sudan can be a part of the international community again. That would mean, as a start, an end to sanctions and more money for reconstruction and development. We will not lose interest in Sudan. We will go on doing everything that we can to help the Sudanese people build a better future.

However, we should be just as clear about what will happen if the Government of Sudan choose a different path—if they decide not to honour the agreements into which they have entered. In that case, the UK, with our partners, will seek to table a further sanctions resolution at the UN Security Council. Also, what goes for the Government of Sudan goes for the rebel groups. If they do not co-operate, if they are not willing to enter into a genuine ceasefire, then they, too, should and will be subjected to sanctions.

Andrew George (St. Ives) (LD): The question is what will those sanctions say? The Prime Minister in The Economist this week said:

The international community intervened in the Balkans. Has Darfur not reached a stage at which international intervention needs to be considered?

Margaret Beckett: In a sense, that is what we are talking about. That is what we have been talking about throughout—the nature and form of intervention by the international community to bring these matters to a conclusion. As for what might be in a sanctions resolution, there is obviously a great deal of discussion about would be effective and what could be supported. It is important to maintain the unity of the international community in bringing pressure to bear, but, more important, to avoid having to pass a sanctions resolution if we can because we have moved forward on the hybrid force.

Bringing real and lasting peace to the people of Darfur will not be an easy process and it will not be quick, but it is still possible. The alternative—a continuation of the horrors that we have already witnessed—is no alternative at all. I will not disguise from the House the tragic fact that the international community is failing the people of Darfur. That is why I chaired a meeting of the Security Council in April on this issue. It is why we are funding the running costs of the African Mission in Sudan—AMIS—to ensure that its troops can continue to operate in Darfur, something that has several times almost been in jeopardy. It is why
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the UK is the second largest bilateral donor to the humanitarian effort in Darfur.

The African Union and the UN have only recently reached agreement on the detailed proposals for the hybrid force to be put to the Government of Sudan. As that Government were supposed to have accepted the principle of such a force many months ago, we are urging very speedy agreement and acceptance of those proposals and I hope that we will hear that that is the case very soon. However, if moves for peace are to succeed, all sides in Sudan and in the international community will need to show the courage to seize the opportunity that we now have and will need the commitment to follow it through for the long term. This Government, this country and, I think, this House will not flinch from that task.

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