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1 Apr 2008 : Column 187WH—continued


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It is easy to for an Opposition spokesman to stand on the sidelines and play touchlinitis, but I would not play the ball that way. However, some of us in Opposition face the intriguing prospect that perhaps in 18 months we may have to deal with the matter for real. The fact is that if a Prime Minister makes a genuine commitment, he must be held to account for that, and we went through this three or four years ago. If the Prime Minister cannot deliver, he should not make such promises.

Finally, this is what my party believes must be achieved, and it pulls together the points made by a number of hon. Members. There should be further UN and EU sanctions if the Sudanese Government continue to restrict the full deployment of the UN force and the credible threat of sanctions now. There should be a major diplomatic drive to secure additional helicopters. I understand that at the NATO summit in Bucharest, the Prime Minister in the margins will have to try to get some helicopters from central and eastern European Members of NATO. There should be an arms embargo to cover the whole of Sudan. It is no good having an embargo just in the Darfur area; there must be a blanket embargo throughout Sudan. There should be a no-fly zone in Darfur. There should be support for the International Criminal Court in prosecuting Sudanese officials. Those ghastly people must understand that if they step outside Sudan they will be lifted in no uncertain terms.

The Prime Minister must to fulfil his pledge to put Darfur at the top of his foreign policy priorities. He believes passionately in that, so he must grip it and drive it through. At the end of the day, that is what leadership is all about, and his right hon. Friend the previous Prime Minister demonstrated that when he established the peace process in Northern Ireland.

10.46 am

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Meg Munn): I also congratulate the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East (James Duddridge) on securing this important debate, and on the way in which he introduced it. I have received the Aegis Trust’s briefing, and I give a commitment that if I am unable to respond to any issues and questions in the time available, I will respond in writing to the hon. Gentleman and place a copy of my letter in the Library so that all hon. Members may see it.

The turnout for this relatively short debate demonstrates the real concern in all parties about the dreadful situation, and I know that many other hon. Members share those concerns.

James Duddridge: I thank the Minister for her courtesy in responding to the Aegis Trust’s briefing. I am not sure whether she has received the briefing from the all-party group on Sudan, which also makes a series of recommendations. If she has, perhaps she would consider extending her courtesy to replying to the issues raised in that document?

Meg Munn: Indeed, I shall.

Before going into the details, may I assure all hon. Members that this matter is a priority for the Government? There is a great deal of activity, but I may not be able to report all of it this morning. My noble Friend, Lord Malloch-Brown, who is the Minister for Africa, gives great priority to the issue in everything that he does.


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I shall set out the context to which some hon. Members have referred, and perhaps they will forgive me if I do not refer specifically to them. It is important that I answer questions as fully as I can.

For more than 20 years, north and south Sudan have fought a vicious civil war with an estimated 2 million people having been killed, and many having been injured with untold numbers of women being raped. Many hundreds of thousands of people have been forced from their homes and villages to flee to wherever they thought they would be safe. The international community has tried to build the necessary confidence to make peace. In 2005, a fragile peace was put in place with the signing of the comprehensive peace agreement. Although the peace has held, lack of political will and trust on both sides has caused the agreement to falter. We are pressing everyone to continue implementing the comprehensive peace agreement. We support the census, which is due later this month, and which should lead to national elections in 2009. Those elections could change the future of Sudan, but if the comprehensive peace agreement fails, there will be little hope for peace.

The UN has described the Darfur conflict as the greatest humanitarian crisis in the world, and we have seen the shocking pictures on our televisions. Thousands of people have been killed, raped or wounded; more than 2 million people have been forced from their homes and more than 4 million are dependent on international aid for food and basic needs. As we feared, the conflict has spilled over into Chad. There are 290,000 Darfuri refugees in Chad, and 180,000 Chadians have been forced to flee their homes. The recent fighting in west Darfur and the failed February coup in Chad graphically showed how the stability of the entire region is at risk.

Since the conflict first began, the UK has worked to end the tragedy. We are the second largest bilateral humanitarian donor to Sudan. Since April 2004, we have given £158 million to Darfur for humanitarian aid, and we have supported the implementation of an agreement between the Government of Sudan and the UN to allow full humanitarian access for non-governmental organisations in Darfur.

In addition, we have supported the African Union peacekeeping mission in Darfur by providing £73 million for airlift and equipment. When it became clear that that force was not enough, we secured a UN resolution mandating a new AU-UN peacekeeping force. UNAMID took authority on 31 December 2007. We have just given £4 million to support the training and the equipping of African troop-contributing countries and we are providing military, planning, expertise and staff officers. We have committed £5 million to the Darfur Community Peace and Stability Fund. That allows for recovery and reconciliation when local security permits and when local leaders are committed to a political dialogue.

We in the UK cannot resolve the issue, but we can help the international work and seek to build consensus. We have encouraged China to play a more positive role in Sudan. The Prime Minister raised the matter during his visit to China in January. Recently, China has made more critical comments. We want China to use its considerable influence in Khartoum to play a constructive role and to do more on the comprehensive peace agreement. In February, Ministers from the Department for International Development and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office agreed with the Chinese special envoy for Africa key
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objectives in Sudan to accelerate UNAMID deployment, re-energise the political process for Darfur and support the implementation of the comprehensive peace agreement. The Foreign Secretary reinforced those messages during his visit to China at the end of February. We have also repeatedly made it clear to China that given its reliance on Sudanese oil it is in its interest for Sudan to be peaceful.

Europe is also more focused on Sudan and Chad. The European peacekeeping force has started to deploy to Chad. We are working with the French Government; the Prime Minister and President Sarkozy agreed last week to step up efforts. We have worked in the Security Council to build consensus and to take tough action if the rebels and the Government of Sudan do not meet their commitments. As hon. Members well know, that has not been enough. Some hon. Members raised the issue of a no-fly zone, but we have real concerns that that would restrict UN and NGO operations and that there would be a real risk of their aircraft being hit and humanitarian aid not getting through. There are clear logistical problems and too few air assets to monitor air activity over Darfur.

John Bercow: I have heard what the Minister has just said. Nobody has ever suggested that the establishment of a no-fly zone would be absolutely simple, but the balance of argument previously was always in favour, and the Government themselves seemed to be in favour. I get the distinct sense that that position has now changed.

Meg Munn: We are concerned for the reasons that I have set out. The feasibility work that has been carried out indicates those particular problems. As regards the current situation, I am assured that significant problems exist, and that is what the Prime Minister himself said when he was asked about the matter recently.

We will continue to support the people of Darfur by helping the humanitarian agencies do their work. We will continue to help build an effective peacekeeping force. Although the first troops are now in place, I share hon. Members’ frustration with the slow progress. Clearly, the recent fighting has created further problems in relation to that. The force currently comprises 10,500 people, including 7,500 military, 1,800 police and 1,300 civilians. Full deployment will be 19,500 military, 6,500 police and 5,500 civilians. We never expected troops to be fully deployed by the 31 December 2007 when authority was transferred to UNAMID, but we recognise the need for the Government of Sudan to do more to facilitate the deployment.

We welcome the signing of status of forces agreement early in February. That should resolve issues over visas, customs and freedom of movement. We expect to see the Government of Sudan fully co-operating with the AU-UN. Recent progress has taken place on the ground. It may not sound a great deal, but it is incredibly important to the people in the camps. There has been an increase in firewood patrols to enable people to get firewood to cook and an increase in policing. In February, following the fighting in west Darfur, UNAMID escorted NGOs which were providing aid.

Mr. Drew: Will the Minister tell us how many of those troops and police will be women? One of the saddest aspects of the events in Darfur is the particular way in which violence against women has been used as a weapon of war.


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Meg Munn: My hon. Friend raises a very powerful point. May I discuss that information later, when I respond to the issues that I do not get to today?

Egyptian and Bangladeshi troops should have deployed in March. The Ethiopian and Egyptian infantry battalions will deploy in April and May, followed by Thai and Nepalese battalions. There will be ongoing deployment of infantry battalions throughout 2008. Full deployment is unlikely before the end of 2008. We will continue to press the AU and UN to appoint a single chief mediator for the political process. I cannot stress too highly how important it is to have the process in place because it is the key to peace in the region. The mediator must be someone who is able to help unify the differing rebel factions into an effective negotiating group. We will continue to work for a cessation of hostilities with monitoring mechanisms that allow the international community to take action when and if it is breached. The UN arms embargo needs to encompass all of Sudan to match the EU’s embargo. I can reassure hon. Members that we regard the UN arms embargo as important and we will push for it.

The issue of the wider region was raised. The war between north and south Sudan and the rebel uprising in Darfur were caused by marginalisation. The Government in Khartoum failed to meet their people’s needs. That was exacerbated by climate change and regional interference. One hon. Member asked what the Darfur rebels wanted. They want a fair share of the oil wealth and power sharing for Darfur. Others want regime change in Khartoum and there are also some general concerns about the rebels.

As regards the Dakar agreement, which my hon. Friend raised, we are supporting the international contact group that has been set up to monitor the agreement and we are calling on both Governments to adhere to the agreement. The international community must make it clearer to the Government of Sudan and the rebels that they have a choice; they can co-operate with the AU and the UN, end the violence, bring those who have committed atrocities to justice and allow humanitarian workers to operate freely and securely or they must face the consequences. We are ready to impose tougher sanctions and we will press the Security Council to join us to take action against them. There will be no impunity for war crimes through the international criminal court.

Last June, during a debate on the situation in Darfur, the then Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, Central (Hilary Benn) asked a simple question that we must still ask today.

The people of Darfur have suffered too long and the international community must live up to those words.


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Daresbury Science and Innovation Campus

11 am

Mr. Mike Hall (Weaver Vale) (Lab): I would like to put on record my thanks to Mr. Speaker for granting this important debate on the future of science in the north-west. Daresbury laboratory—now the Daresbury science and innovation campus—in my constituency has been delivering world-class science for 40 years and has contributed to Britain being at the international forefront of accelerator science research.

In 2000-01, Daresbury faced a problem. The Government made the stupid decision to locate Diamond, the successor to the synchrotron radiation source that had been developed at Daresbury, at Rutherford Appleton. Daresbury therefore faced the challenge of finding a new project to ensure that it remained at the forefront of international science. The purpose of this debate is not to look back over the decision that has already been made—although I will refer to some of the consequences of it later—but to consider what can be done to secure the future for Daresbury laboratory in the post-synchrotron radiation source era.

In 2001, the Government set up the north-western Daresbury science group, which considered what could be done to design a new project for Daresbury laboratory in the future. It came up with a concept called the fourth generation light source, which involved fantastic world-leading scientific research that was internationally recognised. We were hopeful that that would take the future of the laboratory forward. In 2006, we were very pleased when the Government published the document, “Science & Innovation Investment Framework 2004-2014”, in which they stated in support of the objectives that

That was a vote of confidence in the future of Daresbury laboratory and is an important document. I hope that the Minister will repeat what his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has said and reaffirm that that is still the Government’s position. That announcement was recognised by Daresbury laboratory as a very positive statement about its future.

We also welcome the Government’s announcements in December last year and January this year that Daresbury science and innovation campus will continue its high-performance computing accelerator and detector research at the Cockcroft Institute and the Harwell centre. The Cockcroft Institute is a joint international venture on accelerator science and technology, and is a commitment to the future of Daresbury laboratory. The project is led brilliantly by its director, Swapan Chattopadhyay, who is an internationally renowned scientist who came from Berkeley in America to Daresbury because of the work that was promised. That was a coup as it meant that there was a brain drain in reverse: a world-class scientist came to Britain to do their work. It was another signpost that Daresbury laboratory had a real future.

We are pleased about the work on international computational science that will take place at Daresbury.
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That is another vote of confidence. We welcome the McKillop review, which will explore the current and potential contribution of the Daresbury campus to science and innovation in the city region. The review will also consider how the campus can be retained as one of national and international significance, which is very important.

I do not want to pre-empt what the Minister might say today or in the near future, but we also look forward to Government announcements on investments in Daresbury from the large facilities capital fund. We have two excellent innovation buildings at Daresbury, both of which are full. We need to build a third one and perhaps even a fourth one after that so that innovation at Daresbury goes from strength to strength. If Daresbury is to succeed as the Government’s document suggests, and if the Government’s stated aim that it will be a world-leading scientific research facility and innovation campus is to be achieved, we need a research facility of international repute at Daresbury that will underpin the science and make sure that the whole laboratory has a future.

I have referred to 4GLS—the fourth generation light source. Late last year, the scientific community received a bombshell when the new Science and Technology Facilities Council decided to abandon 4GLS and set up a new light source review. The new light source review’s four X-ray and laser scientists have said that 4GLS should involve lasers. There is no surprise in that, but there is a concern that the four scientists were not capable of scientific impartiality in determining what the future next generation light source should consist of, because they did not have any expertise in light source research. The final report of the international advisory committee on 4GLS stated that it strongly supported the delivery of the science originally deployed by 4GLS. It gave it a vote of confidence, and in relation to accelerator science stated:

It was unequivocal that 4GLS is the way forward and the way in which we will stay at the forefront of international research in accelerator science. That is the research that will need to be done if Britain intends to stay at the forefront of that field, and I hope that the Minister will be able to reaffirm that message.

The new light source project that will be announced on 11 April will be led by two internationally renowned scientists: one from Imperial college London and one from Oxford. If the Minister wants to send a positive message to Daresbury about its future, that project would also include a scientist from the north-west who has expertise in light source science and research. That would say to the community that when the Government decide what they will do in relation to the next generation light source, they will take all aspects of that field of research into account. That would send a message to the north-west that the Government recognise the region’s expertise in that field and believe that it has the quality, the staff and the ability to provide somebody who can head up the new project. That would send a positive message to Daresbury laboratory, to the scientists and academics in the north-west and to those who are concerned about the economy in the region.


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