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David Tredinnick (Bosworth) (Con): I am still concerned that there are no proper guidelines for practice-based commissioning or polyclinics in relation to integrated health care and that at a time when Lord Darzi is recommending innovation and choice for patients, there
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is no proper thinking in the Department about what to do in respect of herbalists, acupuncturists and homeopaths, who want to make their contribution. What does the Secretary of State have to say about that?

Alan Johnson: I hope the hon. Gentleman will accept that we have announced that we will run some pilots on how to have more integrated primary care and that we have had huge interest from PCTs all over the country. He should welcome this step forward, given his long history of supporting alternative and complementary medicines.

Greg Mulholland (Leeds, North-West) (LD): I welcome the new Care Services Minister to his post and wish him the very best in this important role. I acknowledge the advances on hospice funding in the end-of-life strategy, but I am sure he will acknowledge that hospices still face a huge struggle to raise the funds that they need to survive. This year is the 30th anniversary of Wheatfields hospice in Headingley in my constituency—a happy event—so I invite him to join me, if he has the time, to visit that wonderful institution to see the work that it does.

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Phil Hope): I thank the hon. Gentleman for that kind invitation. He is right to say that end-of-life care is a matter that the whole House should take very seriously, because palliative care services are essential. The Government are pushing the dignity and respect campaign right across the country, with 3,000 or 4,000 people asking how we can treat older people with dignity and respect when they need social care. Dignity and respect at the end of life is a particularly important part of that. He invited me to visit his constituency to see a particular hospice, and I am happy to check my diary to see whether I can accommodate that request.

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Democratic Republic of the Congo

3.33 pm

Mr. William Hague (Richmond, Yorks) (Con) (U rgent Q uestion): To ask the Foreign Secretary if he will make a statement on the security and humanitarian situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Bill Rammell): Recent fighting in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has further worsened a dire humanitarian situation. The displacement of an additional 55,000 people in North Kivu in the past week compounds the suffering that has continued for years. Access to food, sanitation and shelter is urgently needed. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary saw the suffering caused by the violence at first hand when he visited DRC on 1 November. We are determined that that suffering should be effectively addressed. The UK has increased its commitment to provide humanitarian aid, and we are supporting flights to help meet the immediate needs of displaced people in the region. We urge all parties to observe the current ceasefire and allow humanitarian access to those affected by the fighting. Contingency planning is under way to strengthen the provision of aid to those who need it.

The issues underlying the violence are political. The leaders of DRC and Rwanda need to co-operate to reach political solutions to those issues, and in that regard I welcome the appointment by the UN Secretary-General of former President Obasanjo of Nigeria as his special envoy to facilitate this process. I also commend the action taken by the chairman of the commission of the African Union in appointing an emissary, who will travel to Kinshasa tomorrow. It is right that regional partners should play a role in the efforts to stabilise this volatile region and encourage stronger relations between neighbours. We will continue to do everything possible to bring peace to the region.

Mr. Hague: I thank the Minister for providing that answer in the Foreign Secretary’s absence.

In view of the precarious humanitarian situation in DRC, including the loss of life, the risk of the spread of violence and the danger to peace, and the possible deployment of British forces, which has been mentioned, I hope that the Minister agrees that it is important that the Government continue to update the House as the situation develops. The Opposition are pleased that the Foreign Secretary visited the region quickly at the weekend. We support the work that he has done, his close co-operation with the French Foreign Minister and the product of that mission.

I would like to question the Minister on four matters: the first is the scale of the humanitarian problem. It is said that 500,000 people are on the move without camps or fixed locations to go to. That is a fairly desperate situation. Does he have any more information about that?

The second matter is the continuing role of United Nations troops. The House will be aware that the largest UN deployment in the world is in DRC; it involves 16 countries. What is the disposition of those forces? Where and how are they deployed? Can the Minister comment on their strength and effectiveness? The head
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of UN peacekeeping operations is in the Congo assessing the situation. When will he report to the UN Security Council? Five thousand UN troops are meant to be providing protection for aid. Is the Minister satisfied that those troops have the organisation and capability to do that effectively, especially given that the commander of the UN forces has resigned?

The third matter is the involvement of UK troops. Last night—I think—the Foreign Secretary said:

A few days previously, the Minister for the Middle East and Africa, Lord Malloch-Brown, said that that option had to be

How developed and on the table is it?

Fourthly, on the politics of the situation, the joint ministerial statement between the Foreign Secretary and the French Foreign Minister rightly stated that the first priority was that the DRC Government

In the Government’s opinion, are those things beginning to happen? Is the Minister satisfied that all possible pressure is being exerted on General Nkunda to ensure that his forces lay down their arms?

The Foreign Secretary and French Foreign Minister have warned both the Congolese and Rwandan leaders that they will be held to account for any further fighting. Can the Minister say more about how it is proposed that they will be held to account? Has he raised that matter with the International Criminal Court, which is already involved in the Congo?

Finally, in welcoming the impending visit by the UN Secretary-General to the region, and other initiatives, including those of the African Union, how confident is the Minister that the Congolese and Rwandan leaders will be persuaded to pursue existing road maps on disarmament, integration, transitional justice, resource sharing, institution building and so on? Does he agree that, if the responsibility to protect is to mean anything, the UN has to demonstrate how it will assert its collective responsibility never to allow anything like the 1994 Rwandan catastrophe to occur again?

Bill Rammell: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for those questions and the tone in which they were put. It is certainly imperative that the Government keep the House up to date. Like him, I think that the Foreign Secretary’s visit at the weekend was exceedingly timely and constructive.

The humanitarian situation is bleak: 55,000 people have been displaced in the last week, which makes the figure 250,000 since August and 850,000 in total. That is very concerning.

On troop levels, the right hon. Gentleman is right to point out that the MONUC force—the UN force in DRC—comprises 17,000 troops and is, therefore, the largest peacekeeping force in the world. Some 85 per cent. of the force is located in the eastern part of DRC. However, the first and overriding priority of the international community is to ensure that MONUC is
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effectively deployed. We are pressing, even today, to ensure that the troops are deployed in the right places for the maximum impact.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about the involvement of British troops. We have made it clear that that is on the table as a last-case contingency provision, but even if we were to consider that, it is certainly not our immediate priority. Our immediate priority is to ensure that the MONUC force works effectively, because it is a substantial force. Were we to consider a contribution of further troops, we would do that in conjunction with our international partners on a contingency basis. We would need to be very clear about how any additional forces could supplement MONUC’s efforts. A hasty, poorly planned deployment could complicate the situation further, which is why we are focusing all our efforts on ensuring that MONUC, which has the troops on the ground, operates effectively.

The key to the situation is a political solution. It is welcome that President Kikwete has given a commitment to bring the two leaders together within the region. As the shadow Foreign Secretary pointed out, there are road-map commitments and a potential solution in place. We all need to use all our efforts to ensure that those solutions are taken forward.

Mike Gapes (Ilford, South) (Lab/Co-op): The Minister will be aware that the Democratic Republic of the Congo is a vast country with 60 million people, most of whom earn less than half a dollar a day. It is very poor, yet very wealthy in resources. Does he agree that this long-standing problem will not be solved in Kinshasa but through its neighbours and by addressing the conflict between the Tutsi and Hutu peoples of the area around the lakes? An intensive political effort, particularly involving Rwanda, is required to get the political solution that is called for.

Bill Rammell: I very much agree with my hon. Friend that the situation requires a political solution. I know that he has taken a strong interest in the issue. It requires a political process between Tutsis and Hutus, as well as political engagement between the DRC and Rwanda. There is also an important key role to be undertaken by the AU. In that regard, I was pleased by the announcement that the AU will send its own envoy, Ibrahima Fall, to contribute to the process.

Mr. Edward Davey (Kingston and Surbiton) (LD): The Foreign Secretary is to be commended for his action in recent days, working with his French counterparts. The Liberal Democrats strongly support the urgent and courageous humanitarian efforts that are now under way. He has rightly been cautious in promising British troops, given the appalling overstretch suffered by our forces in Iraq and elsewhere. The proposal for an EU force to back the UN mission that was discussed in the other place yesterday would have our support.

Is there not a strong case for Britain and the EU to do more to offer cash, know-how and logistical support to any reinforcements that AU countries are prepared to offer to MONUC? Is it not also vital to clarify the mandate of the UN mission to ensure that it can operate independently of the Congolese army, given its involvement in human rights abuses?

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The Foreign Secretary has rightly stressed the roles of Presidents Kabila and Kagame in finding a lasting political peace, but does the Minister accept that a sustainable solution has an economic dimension, which will also require better control of the vast mineral resources that attract and fund the militias? Will the Minister assure the House that all UK companies involved in the illegal mining and minerals trading that is fuelling the conflict will be investigated and that this summer’s welcome action against DAS Air and Afrimex was not a one-off?

Finally, given that large parts of the global electronic consumer industry are mostly dependent on minerals primarily found in the eastern Congo, will the Minister take action to press for such industries to be forced to explain their sourcing policies and procedures?

Bill Rammell: I thank the hon. Gentleman for those questions. Cash certainly has a role to play, and we are one of the biggest bilateral aid donors to both DRC and Rwanda. It is clear that the UN mission has a role both to monitor and to enforce the accords that are being put in place. Ultimately, as the hon. Gentleman has pointed out, there needs to be a negotiated, political solution based on the commitments in place already. There is an economic driver for the present situation, in that the region has economic resources. We have been at the forefront of pressing, at international level through the UN, for the extractive industries transparency initiative as a way to ensure that there is effective governance and so that corruption and killing are not driven by a desire for economic profit.

Mr. Eric Joyce (Falkirk) (Lab): I agree with my hon. Friend that a political solution is the key, but does he accept that there can be no long-term solution until the DRC army—the FARDC—has sufficient capacity?

Bill Rammell: That is why it is critically important that the MONUC force—which is on the ground and which, as I have said on a number of occasions, is the largest peacekeeping force anywhere in the world—operates effectively and is deployed in the right places. That is the argument that we are making, and the process needs to be taken forward.

Rev. Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP): I am sure that the Minister is aware that there has been a religious emphasis in some of the deaths that have taken place. I myself have lost my dearest friend, a missionary who was murdered along with his wife and four children. That had nothing to do with anything that he was doing but, in the midst of the terrible rebellion, there was terrible killing. I trust that the Minister and our Government will do their best to ensure that people whose work has a religious content have adequate protection.

Bill Rammell: I can certainly give the commitment that we are seeking to do everything that we possibly can in that regard. There has been a religious element to the killing, but fundamentally it has been driven by a conflict of interests in respect of economics, politics and land ownership. That is why we need a political solution, and that is what we are pushing for very strongly.

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Mr. Doug Henderson (Newcastle upon Tyne, North) (Lab): My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary went to the Congo at the weekend, with his French counterpart. Will my hon. Friend the Minister say whether they had discussions about the need for reinforcements for peacekeeping troops? If so, did they discuss whether it would be better to have an EU force to supplement the existing UN force, or for EU countries to contribute directly to a UN force?

Bill Rammell: Obviously, our contingency planning has to take account of all eventualities, but I repeat that we have the largest peacekeeping force anywhere in the world on the ground in DRC. That force has to operate effectively, which means that the troops have to be deployed in the right places and the mandate needs to be clear. That is the focus of our efforts at the moment, in conjunction with providing humanitarian support.

Sir Malcolm Rifkind (Kensington and Chelsea) (Con): The Foreign Secretary deserves support for his diplomatic initiative, and there is no doubt that further humanitarian, economic and political initiatives can be taken. However, do the Government accept that it would be very unwise to create expectations that cannot be realised, and in particular to create ambiguity about the possibility of any significant military contribution by Britain? Will the Minister acknowledge that the UK’s other commitments in Afghanistan and elsewhere mean that it is not in a position to make more than a purely symbolic contribution? In the circumstances, does he agree that it would be much more honest and wise, and in the best interests of all those involved, to make that clear at this stage rather than to dwell in ambiguity?

Bill Rammell: I respect the right hon. and learned Gentleman for his experience and knowledge in these areas, but I do not think that there has been ambiguity in our position. In everything that I have said today, and in everything that my right hon. Friends the Foreign Secretary and Prime Minister have said, it has been made abundantly clear that the focus of our efforts is to maximise the opportunity for the UN force on the ground to do its work effectively. That is what we are focused on, and I think that that is the right way forward.

Hugh Bayley (City of York) (Lab): It is not just the number of troops that MONUC has that is important, but how they are commanded and controlled. What can developed-country militaries—such as ours, NATO’s and the EU’s—provide to strengthen MONUC’s ability to use the forces that it has at its disposal?

Bill Rammell: We already have advisory support in place, and that will be part of our thinking as we go forward. A number of partner nations contribute to the troop levels of the MONUC force, but in addition there is advisory support, and we will keep that under review.

Sir Peter Tapsell (Louth and Horncastle) (Con): While the immediate need is to try to mitigate the appalling suffering of the refugees, may I ask the Minister whether, in future, even more serious and urgent consideration, above that which he has already mentioned, will be given to one of the root causes of the problem, which is the scramble by foreign firms for the control and exploitation of the mineral wealth of the Congo? That leads to the funding of the so-called warlords, who buy a great deal of weaponry, with which they dominate and terrify the civilian population.

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