Previous Section Index Home Page

16 Oct 2007 : Column 227WH—continued

16 Oct 2007 : Column 228WH

There needs to be a revisiting of the CPA at the national level, therefore. That is not so as to change the CPA, but to give it the emphasis and support that it needs. As the hon. Member for Richmond Park said, sadly there is political repression both in the north and the south. I shall not give examples, but we all know the situation in the north, and there is evidence that the south has not achieved democracy.

We met Sadiq al-Mahdi again, the representative of the Umma party who is better known as a descendant of the Mahdi, who made quite clear to us his belief that it is only a matter of time before conflict breaks out. I know that he has gone on record with such warnings on many previous occasions, but he is probably near the truth, as we have seen in the Kajbar dam incidents, in which there was very severe repression of those opposed to what was going on.

Susan Kramer: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there sometimes seems to be a lack of awareness of the tightness of the time frame for the resolution on the CPA? Without that, there cannot be a census. Taking the census will not be a quick process, particularly when half the year is rainy season, but without it there cannot be elections nor any referendum on secession, so the time frame is very tight.

Mr. Drew: I agree, and the hon. Lady’s comments stand in their own right. I am sure that the Minister will wish to respond.

On Darfur, I had previously visited the south but on this occasion we went to the west. We were genuinely shocked by the instability on the ground. Quite clearly, there are many warring factions. I shall not say how many different groups there are, but there are now so many that when UNAMID—the United Nations African Union Mission in Darfur—comes into formal operation, the task facing it will be far from a walk in the park. There is a view that when AMIS—the African Union Mission in Sudan—leaves, and UNAMID comes in its place, things will suddenly stabilise, but from all the evidence we saw that will not be as easy as some people pretend.

Haskanita, the most recent outrage in which 10 African Union troops were killed, was a dreadful episode that represents the reality of what is happening, which is caused by fragmentation and the amount of weaponry available. I applaud the work of the AU, as well as that of the UK in preparing for the UN. I dare say that it will involve a number of military personnel as well as the work that we are doing on the civil side. We need to work on the convergence phase of the road map and on making it clear that we need peace from the new talks. It is not just a question of whether Abdul Wahid will or will not go; there is a need to involve all the parties. I am not prepared to personalise things and to portray him as crucial. Clearly, he is popular in the camps, but it is not clear whether that is because of his not previously signing the peace deal or because he is a great and wonderful leader. I do not know. What is important is to get the peace talks under way and to get the UNAMID force in place as soon as possible.

We must also make sure that it is not just the military people who claim to speak on behalf of the Darfuri people in the dialogue that will occur, because there is a lot of resentment from other people who believe that
16 Oct 2007 : Column 229WH
their voices should be heard too. The fact that those other people have not picked up a gun does not make them any less important. There are many different factions that are not part of the military which should be listened to as well. That subject is a difficult one, and I hope that the Minister will have some good things to say about what we are doing to bring groups together.

Our tour was a whirlwind one, because Sudan is a huge country. In passing, I invite the Minister to review the early-day motion that I tabled yesterday and that was signed by the hon. Member for Richmond Park, which was addressed to the situation in the east. The peace agreement for the east was obtained a year ago, but at best it is shaky.

I conclude by welcoming both the opportunity to draw attention to Sudanese issues and the Government’s long-term commitment. The events in Sudan are not easy matters to deal with, but we must indeed draw attention to them and state our position that peace is the prerogative of all of us to pursue. I was disappointed by the news that, if anything, the CPA is once again under a cloud, which has an impact on Darfur as it does on the east. I hope that the Minister will have some good news, but we must be realistic. Sudan is not an issue that we can fix quickly.

12.47 pm

The Minister for Europe (Mr. Jim Murphy): I am delighted to serve again under your chairmanship, Mr. Wilshire. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) on securing the debate. The way in which he argued his case testified once more to the fact that Sudan is a country about which he, like all hon. Members, cares passionately. It was evidence too of his devotion, along with that of others, as he has given an enormous amount of personal time and political energy to maintaining the profile of Sudan and to continuing to keep pressure on the international community where appropriate and necessary. He is regarded in the House as one of those who is most active on Sudanese issues.

I am delighted also to see the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Susan Kramer), who participated in the delegation. In his comments, my hon. Friend spoke quite realistically of the security situation at the time of the delegation, and I am sure he will appreciate it if I put on record our respect and thanks to the team at the British embassy for the work that they do in a phenomenally important and occasionally very dangerous part of the world. I particularly thank our ambassador, Rosalind Marsden, and her team. We all appreciate the work that they do.

You were right to conclude, very perceptively, Mr. Wilshire, that Sudan is not in the European Union. If the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Meg Munn) had been in the United Kingdom rather than on ministerial duties abroad, she would have responded to the debate. Nevertheless, I am delighted to have the opportunity to respond.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud is right to say that the situation in Sudan, especially with the conflict in Darfur, is increasingly complex. That argument ran
16 Oct 2007 : Column 230WH
throughout his speech. The SPLM’s announcement on 11 October that it would suspend its participation in the Government of National Unity adds further complications to that situation.

The foundation for peace and stability throughout Sudan is, as my hon. Friend eloquently argued, the comprehensive peace agreement. The UK, as an integral part of the international community, remains absolutely committed to its implementation. As my hon. Friend knows, the CPA ended more than 20 years of civil war between the north and the south and is an important vehicle in bringing lasting peace to all parts of Sudan. Its full implementation remains important both for north-south relations and for resolving the conflict in Darfur.

My hon. Friend fairly assessed that the most important element of the agreement is the 2009 national elections. The international community must help to create an environment that will ensure that those elections are a success. The hon. Member for Richmond Park raised a fair point about the census. My information is that the rainy season ended two weeks ago, that the census has been delayed from November to January or February, and that while that time scale is still tight, it is achievable. I hope that reassures the hon. Lady, and I am sure that it is something that she will continue to raise with my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary.

There has been progress on the CPA, and a majority of troops have redeployed to their respective areas. Most of the CPA-mandated institutions have been set up. However, the political leaders in the north and the south must summon the political will and demonstrate strong leadership to resolve the most sensitive issues, especially now, when the political impasse has the potential to derail a peace that is allowing recovery and development in the south.

My hon. Friend may find it helpful if I outline what the UK Government are actively doing and what we are looking for. We want the north and south to dedicate the necessary resources to complete the national census in advance of the 2009 elections; for both sides to work to find a tenable solution to the border disputes in Abyei and other areas along the north-south border; and for both to continue to build a secure environment throughout the country, including full redeployment of troops to their respective areas. The Government of Sudan must allow sufficient political space for democratic activity.

On the specific point of the UK’s engagement on the CPA, we are focused on bringing the issues back on track and restoring faith in the agreement. The UK provided more than £60 million of development assistance last year in support of CPA implementation. We have also put £47 million into the multi-donor trust fund over three years, which will be split evenly between north and south Sudan. The UK also continues to press for more progress on CPA implementation through its membership of the CPA implementation oversight body, the Assessment and Evaluation Commission. We are working with partners to reinvigorate the commission and to keep the CPA on the international agenda.

The CPA is the bedrock of stability for the whole of Sudan: it is indivisible from the peace process in Darfur, which is one of the Prime Minister’s top foreign policy priorities for the Government. The situation in Darfur is appalling, as the international community has recorded.
16 Oct 2007 : Column 231WH
The UN has described the situation in Darfur as the greatest humanitarian crisis in the world. Many thousands have been killed, raped or wounded. More than 2 million people are displaced. More than 4 million people—two thirds of the population—are dependent on international aid for their basic needs. Those statistics convey only a little of the immense human misery that is being visited upon the people of Darfur.

The Prime Minister and President Sarkozy announced a joint initiative for Darfur on 20 July. It focused on four areas: rapid deployment of an effective peacekeeping force; movement towards political negotiations; preparing for economic recovery to show the people of Darfur that there are dividends of peace; and regional stability. We have already committed more than £73 million of bilateral funds to the African Union peacekeeping force. We have contributed more than £250 million in humanitarian assistance to Sudan since 2004, 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. We have also been a leading voice in building an international consensus on Darfur, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud was fair enough to say.

We sponsored the UN resolution in March 2005 that referred Darfur to the International Criminal Court. The ICC has now issued two arrest warrants in connection with alleged atrocities in Darfur. We continue to call on the Government of Sudan to co-operate fully with the ICC. We have encouraged China to play a more positive role in Sudan, and that is important. We have built up European support for tough measures and persuaded EU partners to give further funding for the African Union peacekeepers.

16 Oct 2007 : Column 232WH

We sponsored UN Security Council resolution 1769, which mandated the first hybrid peacekeeping force in the world for Darfur, which will bring vital security. We are working with donors to prepare the ground for recovery. In September, the UN Secretary-General announced the start date for peace talks, which are to be held in Libya at the end of the month. In September, the UN and EU agreed to send a peacekeeping force to Chad. However, there are still a number of problems, as my hon. Friend mentioned. In recent weeks, fighting in Darfur has increased, leading to the murderous attack on peacekeepers in Haskanita—an attack that was rightly condemned around the world. The increase in fighting has affected vital humanitarian operations. Attacks on humanitarian workers, who do an incredible job in terrible circumstances, continue. As a consequence, the people of Darfur continue to suffer. That cannot continue.

We are calling on all sides to commit to an immediate cessation of hostilities, to engage fully in the political talks being led by the African Union and United Nations, to allow the humanitarian workers to do their jobs and to facilitate the rapid deployment of the peacekeeping force. We have an obligation to alleviate the suffering in Darfur, but we cannot do that without full implementation of the comprehensive peace agreement. Only then can we work towards the lasting peace of the whole of Sudan. With the help of our international partners, we will work with the people of Sudan to show them that there can and will be peace.

I want to put on the record the Government’s determination on the fundamental importance and unique nature of this international crisis. I will, of course, bring to the attention of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary the specific comments that our hon. Friend the Member for Stroud raised this afternoon.

16 Oct 2007 : Column 233WH

Military Covenant

12.58 pm

John Barrett (Edinburgh, West) (LD): Like many people born after world war two, we hoped that war was going to be a thing of the past, but since then we have seen war and conflict in many parts of the world, from the Falkland Islands to the Balkans, and now in Iraq and Afghanistan, where the list of dead and injured increases daily. Those men and women look to their Government to deliver their side of the covenant between them and their country.

These were the words of a constituent of mine in a letter to me. That idea will form the crux of the debate today, and I hope that no one in this Chamber would dispute the sentiments of my constituent. Instead, we need to discuss whether we are meeting our obligations to our armed forces, and, if we are not, what we must do to remedy this.

It is important to note at the outset that significant efforts have been made in recent years by the Government, and where Ministers have made positive changes, I commend them. However, that ought not to disguise the fact that certain aspects of the military covenant are not being delivered. I believe that we need to make some real and substantive changes if we are to say honestly that we are meeting those obligations.

I pay tribute to the work of the British Legion, which has done so much to raise the profile of the issue and to focus this debate. I shall make an effort to keep my remarks relatively brief because I want to give the Minister as much time as possible to answer the points that I shall raise. I pay tribute also to a number of my constituents, including Sarah Benett, Tim Gregory and Philip Howard, who have written to me, along with many others, on this subject.

I shall focus first on the issue of fair and just compensation for injuries or illnesses caused by service in the armed forces. This is a key area of concern raised with me by my constituents. As hon. Members will be aware, the armed forces compensation scheme introduced a fundamentally different method for compensating those who have suffered injury or illness as a result of service. When the Government introduced the compensation scheme in April 2005, few people would have said that the system was not in need of an overhaul. Many of the changes are positive and have made a real difference, but in too many respects introduction of the AFCS has resulted in an erosion of the support provided through the military covenant.

For me and many of my constituents, the most pressing of those changes is the way in which the burden of proof in a compensation claim falls at the door of the claimant and their family. Instead of giving the claimant the benefit of the doubt, cases are decided on the balance of probabilities. Hon. Members will be aware that before the compensation scheme was introduced, the burden of proof in such cases lay—quite rightly—with the Secretary of State. I have yet to hear a convincing argument for why it is right that soldiers should have to prove that their injuries were a result of service. I find it
16 Oct 2007 : Column 234WH
quite extraordinary that the Government should take that position, and I look forward to the Minister’s explanation.

In 2003, the House of Commons Defence Committee commented:

I doubt that many people here today believe that that is asking too much, and yet earlier this year, the Ministry of Defence said:

I am afraid that the accepted standards of the civil courts cannot simply be transferred to a military context. For example, how are soldiers supposed to provide “reasonable, reliable evidence”, especially following involvement in a battlefield situation? I would like to know also what service personnel ought to do, given that very often they cannot provide full medical records.

My second point was articulated ably by the Defence Committee in 2003:

This is set against a backdrop of military record keeping that even Ministers have acknowledged is less than perfect.

I would appreciate the Minister’s comments on a number of other issues related to the compensation scheme. Members will be aware that the compensation scheme allows for three injuries only to be claimed if all of the injuries have resulted from the same incident, and that the lump sum awarded for each injury reduces with each one claimed. That effectively means that people are suffering from injuries, but are not being compensated for them, for which the only reason is that they were more seriously injured than the compensation scheme allows for. I simply cannot see any principled justification for not fully compensating armed forces personnel for each and every injury sustained in a single incident.

I take issue with the time limit imposed on service personnel’s claims for compensation. The time limit for an initial claim under the compensation scheme is five years from the date that the injury occurred, or from the date that medical treatment for an illness was first sought. There can be no justification for setting time limits for claims. The military covenant outlines a lifelong duty of care, and, therefore, all time restrictions should be removed from the scheme. Again, I look forward to hearing the Minister’s comments on that point.

On access to health, the military covenant states:

More recently, in April 2007, the Chief of the General Staff, General Sir Richard Dannatt, confirmed that this

Next Section Index Home Page