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Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): I think that the Minister is stretching a point, as he has done several times already. I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for making that point. Perhaps we could return to the specifics of the debate, and any political jousting could take place outside the Chamber afterwards.

Mr Lidington: I am sure that, if the right hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Mr Clarke) wishes to put himself forward as a rival to Mr Schulz, he will find some support on the Opposition Benches.

It is being suggested in some quarters, and was hinted at in the Commission’s communication, that only one of the candidates named by European political parties can become President of the European Commission. I have read—as, I am sure, have other Members—a fair bit of confused reporting on the process for selecting the next President, and it may help the House if I briefly explain the system as it is described in the treaties.

As is stated in article 17(7) of the treaty on European union, the European Council, acting by qualified majority,

“Taking into account the elections to the European Parliament and after having held the appropriate consultations… shall propose to the European Parliament a candidate for President of the Commission.”

The candidate shall then be elected by a majority of the European Parliament’s Members. If the candidate cannot attain a majority, the European Council will propose a new candidate.

The House will note that there is no mention in the treaty of European political party candidates for the post of Commission President. In our opinion, such candidates were not envisaged by the requirement for the European Council to take account of the European Parliament elections. While there is nothing in the treaty to prevent European political parties from running candidates, there is also nothing to mandate the European Council to limit its selection of a Commission President to those in that particular pool, and any proposal to impose such a mandate would require amendment of the treaty.

Graham Stringer (Blackley and Broughton) (Lab): This is mind-bogglingly irrelevant to the problems of my constituents. Would it not be better for the Minister to focus on abolishing six of the seven Presidents of the European Union?

Mr Lidington: I am speaking about this because it is very relevant to the communication which the European Scrutiny Committee has referred to the Floor of the House—indeed, it relates to one of the integral parts of that communication. While I am the first to argue that the European Union ought to slim down its bureaucracy, and I would probably agree with the hon. Gentleman that there are some European institutions whose absence we would not mourn because they do not contribute much to the well-being of European citizens, I believe that the arrangements for the election of a successor to President Barroso are quite important, because the holder of that office will be in a position to exercise a significant influence on policies that affect this country. It is therefore important that we are clear about the rules under which his successor will be selected. It is also important that the UK Government make it clear that we will resist any attempt to interpret the treaties as

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limiting the choice available to the European Council in a way that is not justified by the text of the treaties, but which some in other parts of Europe are keen to see.

Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset) (Con): On that point, how does my right hon. Friend interpret the start of article 17(7) of the treaty on European union:

“Taking into account the elections to the European Parliament and after having held the appropriate consultations”?

Surely the only way to take into account the elections to the European Parliament is to consider the results by political party. If the Commission brought forward specific proposals in this regard, what legal response would the Government have, or how might the European Court of Justice interpret it?

Mr Lidington rose—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Order. Minister, you are stretching the debate very widely, as the document is not legally binding and therefore that is not to do with why this matter has been referred to the Floor of the House. This is not a blue-sky thinking exercise. Of course refer to the article to which the hon. Gentleman refers, which lays out the process, but please stick to what is on the Order Paper and what is before us now, not in future.

Jacob Rees-Mogg rose—

Madam Deputy Speaker: Mr Jacob Rees-Mogg, I am speaking to the Minister, not you. I was not ruling what you said out of order.

Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The motion specifically refers to the proposals from the Commission, which include matters relevant to the nomination of candidates for the post of President. The article quoted by the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) is therefore directly relevant. Are we free to discuss it in that respect at least?

Madam Deputy Speaker: With respect, Mr Horwood, if you had listened to what I said, you would have heard me say article 17(7) is relevant. I was just suggesting to the Minister that, given that the whole document is not legally binding, while it is important that he explains the current arrangements, I hope he will not continue to stretch the debate rather wider than the document in question provides for. So you can of course discuss article 17(7).

Mr Lidington: In answer to my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg), let me explain our view on article 17(7). The European Council retains complete freedom to nominate whom it wishes. It is required to take into account the elections to the European Parliament, but there is nothing in article 17(7) or elsewhere in the treaty on European union that suggests the European Council is in any way mandated to limit its election to a particular pool of candidates. Indeed, it may be that no one political family commands a majority in the European Parliament, or it may be that different combinations of European political parties within the European Parliament prefer one candidate rather than another, and it may not be

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possible, simply by looking at which of the larger European groupings ends up in the lead after the elections next year, to determine what the preference even of the Parliament itself might be as to the preferred candidate.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: On page 14 of the package before us of the Commission’s communications, it specifically quotes article 17(7) in support of its point about political parties and the European presidency. I therefore wonder if it is reading more into article 17(7) than the Minister believes is there.

Mr Lidington: I believe it is, and I think it is fair to say that there are plenty of people in and around the European Commission, and indeed the European Parliament, who believe—perfectly honourably—that the way forward is to move towards a system in which it is the European Parliament, rather than the Heads of Government assembled in the European Council, that has the key role in nominating the President of the Commission and thereafter holding the Commission to account. These are people who believe that it is right and possible to create a European demos, and see that step as a way so to do. What I am saying to my hon. Friend is that I see, and the Government see, nothing in the treaty that requires the European Council to limit its freedom of action in the way that some are suggesting.

Chris Heaton-Harris (Daventry) (Con): This point is not on article 17(7) per se. The motion uses the words

“notes that whilst European political parties are free to support candidates”.

The Minister will know that European political parties have huge amounts of money, which they are not allowed to spend on political campaigning in the course of elections. Surely this document has the potential to ride a coach and horses through that law, internal though it may be to the Parliament, because there are political parties across Europe, including some in the United Kingdom, that do use European political party funding to fund their whole party hierarchy.

Mr Lidington: It is important to distinguish a couple of points. First, nothing in these Commission documents is a legally binding proposal. I repeat: these have the status of recommendations, nothing more. The recommendation we are now debating is addressed to European political parties and national political parties, and it deals with how the Commission thinks they might better arrange their affairs. It is entirely up to both the European and the national political parties to decide whether they pay any attention to the Commission’s recommendations or not.

Secondly, there are provisions in the treaty on the functioning of the European Union to govern the conduct of European parliamentary elections. Those are embodied in a statute based on the relevant articles of the TFEU. For that statute to be amended, or for other changes to be brought forward, unanimity would be required under article 223, as I said earlier. The question of party political spending, including by candidates within the United Kingdom, is governed by the relevant United Kingdom statutes, including, most obviously, the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000. At the moment, there is a clear legal distinction between certain measures that are set at European level and require the

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unanimous agreement of every member state, and the rules on party fundraising, party financing and election expenditure, which remain a matter for member states and are not touched in any way, even by these Commission recommendations.

I wish to conclude on the following point. I said at the start of my remarks that the Government believed there is a genuine problem of lack of democratic legitimacy within the European Union, but that these proposals suggested by the Commission do not provide the answer to that crisis. The Government’s preference would be to see a greater role for national Parliaments in holding European decisions to account. Although I will not expatiate on the detail, the ideas that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and I have proposed in recent weeks on the greater use of the yellow card mechanism or creating a red card mechanism, giving national Parliaments the right to block legislation that need not be agreed at European level, are intended as a contribution to a vigorous debate, which we have now launched, within Europe, not just within the UK. The absence of democratic legitimacy and adequate democratic accountability within the EU is a major political question that needs serious debate and consideration right across the European Union, but it is not answered by the proposals before us this evening.

4.24 pm

Emma Reynolds (Wolverhampton North East) (Lab): I welcome the opportunity that the European Scrutiny Committee has given the House to scrutinise these documents from the European Commission, one a communication and the other a recommendation, which make suggestions about the conduct and organisation of European elections by member states. The stated objective of the European Commission is to increase the democratic legitimacy of the EU and boost turnout in European elections. Fortunately, European communications and recommendations, as their names suggest, do not have legal force and, as the Minister stressed, the documents are not binding on member states. That is the only good thing about them.

The Opposition are pragmatically pro-European, but we do not agree with every directive, proposal or suggestion that comes out of European institutions. In this case, in particular, we disagree with the suggestions made by the European Commission and hope that our Government, when they are in Brussels negotiating on these and other documents, will put forward their opposition. I agree with the words in the motion.

Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): On the question of democratic legitimacy, does the hon. Lady agree that one problem is that European elections are held according to the strange d’Hondt form of proportional representation? The vast majority of British electors have no idea how it operates, which might well be part of the reason why turnout is so low in this country.

Emma Reynolds: Turnout is low for many reasons, and I agree that that is one of them. I would have preferred us to keep the system we had before 1999, under which we had constituencies that were bigger than the Westminster constituencies, as we have fewer

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MEPs than we have MPs but they retained the link with their constituency and their local party—the constituency Labour party for us, or the Conservative association for Conservative MEPs. I am not quite sure what the Liberal Democrats call their local parties—

Ian Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab): They are not sure, either.

Emma Reynolds: They might not be sure.

The MEP would not only have a home constituency to look after but would have a political home to which they could refer, which was manageable and of a manageable size.

Kelvin Hopkins: I must say that I am delighted by what my hon. Friend has just said about first past the post as opposed to list system PR. Does she think that our party might possibly make a commitment at the next election to restore first past the post for European elections in Britain?

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Order. Much as the hon. Lady might be tempted by that question, can we stick specifically to the European document before us? Manifestos can be written elsewhere.

Emma Reynolds: My overall objective in this House is obviously to make my hon. Friend the Member for Luton North (Kelvin Hopkins) happy, but I will defer to your instructions, Madam Deputy Speaker, and will not go down that line of argument.

In this case, and in others, the European Commission seems to have disregarded a very important principle that applies to European co-operation—that is, the subsidiarity principle. It is clear and obvious to me and Members across the House that it should be the decision of democratic political parties in the UK to decide how to approach European elections and how to campaign for them, and that it is up to Ministers in our Government and to this Parliament to decide on which day we should hold those elections. One of the most concerning elements of the proposals is the one to hold the European elections on the same day across the European Union. The Commission argues that member states should agree on

“a common day for elections to the European Parliament, with polling stations closing at the same time.”

That argument is problematic in two different ways. First, as has already been stated, we have a tradition in the UK of voting on a Thursday that, I understand, goes back to the 1930s. It is now fixed in law that local and general elections must take place on a Thursday. The date of European elections is not fixed in law but, according to section 4 of the European Parliamentary Elections Act 2002, European elections should be held on a date fixed by the Secretary of State for Justice. Nevertheless, here as well, the convention is that European elections take place on a Thursday, in line with other elections, as I described.

There are different traditions in different member states of the European Union. We, the Danes and the Dutch usually vote on a Thursday, the Irish vote on a Friday, and some other member states tend to vote on a Saturday or a Sunday. I strongly believe that it should continue to be a decision made by member states’ Governments as to which day of the week elections

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should be held. Here in the UK it is essential that there is uniformity across the different sets of elections, so general, local and European elections should all take place on a Thursday.

There is already a problem with low turnout in European elections. I would like to see a higher turnout in those elections. The Commission states that it wants to boost turnout and increase democratic legitimacy. I fear that its proposal to hold elections on the same day throughout the EU would do exactly the opposite of the stated objective. It might further decrease voter turnout and would therefore do nothing to improve democratic legitimacy.

Secondly, the idea that polling stations should close at the same time is also problematic because of the differences in time zones across the EU. Polls that close at 10 pm in the UK would close earlier in Greece, for example. As early as 1960, the European Parliament adopted proposals for a “uniform procedure” for its member states’ elections, to be used by all member states, but in reality, five decades later, there is no uniformity in virtually any aspect of European elections. In most member states, including the UK, voters choose from a party list, whereas in other member states the single transferable vote is used. Voting ages vary as well, so there is no uniformity in these aspects of European elections. Artificially imposing the same election day would be problematic and, as I said, counter-productive.

The Commission also proposes that national political parties make clear their affiliation to pan-European political parties. Again, the European Commission has disregarded the principle of subsidiarity. It is none of the Commission’s business how my party—the Labour party—or the Conservative party, the Liberal Democrats or others want to campaign in the European parliamentary elections. It is up to the respective national parties to decide how best to campaign in those elections. We strongly believe that it should be for national parties also to determine the content of their party broadcasts, without suggestions from the European Commission.

There are some questions that I would like to put to the Minister. Have the Government informed the Commission of their concerns about the Commission’s suggestions, as set out in the motion? What is the Government’s view on how the Commission is likely to follow up these two documents? What is the view of the other European institutions—the European Parliament and the rest of the Council of Ministers?

Increasing participation in European elections and improving the democratic legitimacy of the European Union are objectives that we share, but the proposals that we are debating today will not achieve that aim. They are counter-productive and ignore the fact that according to the principle of subsidiarity, member states and not the European Commission should have responsibility for administering elections within their borders. We agree, as the Minister set out, that national Parliaments should have a greater role and we congratulate the Foreign Secretary on adopting the proposal of the shadow Foreign Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire South (Mr Alexander), for a red card system, which my right hon. Friend proposed in January this year. It took the Foreign Secretary a few months to come round to the idea, but

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we are glad that he is there. Such proposals should increase the democratic legitimacy of European Union decision making.

We are therefore content to support the Government’s motion on the European Commission documents, and urge the Government to make the strongest possible representations to the Commission that these proposals should be taken no further.

4.34 pm

Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): Being asked to support a motion that takes note of a non-binding set of documents means that this is possibly the least controversial European debate that we have ever had in the House, and I am entirely happy to support the motion. I agree with quite a lot of what has been said by Members on both sides of the House. If the Commission’s proposals are trying to encourage engagement and involvement in European politics, they are missing the mark. That will never be transformed by prescribing the minutiae of voting days or even by talking about precisely how and when who suggests what candidate for posts in the Commission. We have a responsibility as politicians to address these issues, and perhaps to stop discussing endlessly the minutiae of treaties and referendums and such matters—banging on about Europe, as the Prime Minister once memorably put it—and to focus on jobs, crime, the environment and all the important things that Europe has an impact on in our constituents’ lives, but that are rarely talked about in that context.

The media also have some responsibility to report European politics and debate on such issues instead of constantly reporting Europe as if the only debates were about referendums and treaties. It is frustrating that in other European countries news programmes report debates on issues of substance in the European Parliament, which never seems to happen in this country.

With regard to the specifics of the suggestions in the documents, on the voting day I agree with the hon. Member for Wolverhampton North East (Emma Reynolds) and others that there are huge practical problems with having a single voting day, and even more with having single voting times. We should be looking for more flexibility in voting as a possible contribution to higher turnouts, not lower, which these proposals seem to suggest. People lead busy lives, voting often is not their No. 1 priority on a particular day; that might be getting to and from work, getting the children to school or doing a million other things. I am sure we have all been in the situation of trying to persuade that one last voter to go out and vote, but finding that it is not quite as important to them as it is to us. Of course it is very important, and we are right to try to persuade people to turn out, but we need to make it easier, not more difficult.

That might mean, as the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mark Field), who is no longer in his place, suggested, looking at weekend voting, and, as used to happen, at elections taking place over several days. That was the tradition for hundreds of years in elections to the Westminster Parliament. It might mean encouraging more postal voting, making it generally more flexible and open, and not being quite so hung up about having an election on a particular day at a particular time. We might end up testing out having elections on a Saturday or Sunday, or both.

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Kelvin Hopkins: I very much agree with the hon. Gentleman. If we had elections over two days at weekends, Jews could vote on Sunday and Christians could vote on Saturday, and solve the problem.

Martin Horwood: Absolutely. And Muslims could vote on both, and the election could start on Friday. We could be very flexible. Cultural traditions might also be relevant. The Commission’s proposal fails the basic subsidiarity test. This does not need to be mandated, therefore it should not be, and there seems to be wide agreement across the House on that.

The proposals for the candidates for the presidency of the Commission are rather curious. I am proud to be a member of Cheltenham Liberal Democrats, of the Liberal Democrat party in the United Kingdom and of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, and intensely proud to be a member of Liberal International, where Liberals are fighting for things that we take for granted at risk to their own lives in many parts of the world. I know that other parties have slightly more hang-ups about being members of European political parties and have had some difficulties in that regard, but the proposals as far as they go seem to be fairly unexceptional.

The Commission’s proposals effectively talk about encouraging European political parties to nominate candidates, but actually they can already do that. A report by my colleague Andrew Duff, which the European Parliament will vote on at the start of July, goes rather further. It states that

“the candidate for Commission President who was put forward by the European political party that wins the most seats in the Parliament will be the first to be considered”

with a view to

“ascertaining his/her ability to secure the support of the necessary absolute majority in Parliament”.

That might be a legitimate and interesting way of interpreting article 17.7 of the treaty, but so long as they must only have regard to the candidate, the Councils of the European Union will not actually be obliged to choose that candidate or even to consider them in preference over others.

We need to create a situation that encourages more involvement, openness and accountability, and in that respect I think that it would be good to have greater democratic involvement in the process of promoting and choosing candidates, so long as it does not mandate it, because I think that a slight constitutional issue would start to emerge if we drifted into the mandation of candidates by political parties. That would start to blur the line between who are the Governments and politicians and who are the civil servants, which is a line that we draw very carefully in this country. In a sense, the Commission is the equivalent of the civil service and the permanent secretaries. In many respects, it should be the impartial servant of the political will of the Parliament and of the people and Governments of Europe in the Councils. We can decide at some future stage—this is certainly not something I support now—whether to have a European Government, but we do not have one at the moment and that is not something we should start doing in an accidental, piecemeal way.

I accept that there is a particular problem for the Conservatives on this issue. They belong to the fifth largest group in the Parliament—it feels rather good to

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say that—and the Liberal and Socialist groups are rather larger. I think it is a problem for the Conservatives that they are not represented in the mainstream conservative grouping, or Christian Democrat grouping, in the Parliament. I think that it was a regrettable decision by the British Conservatives not to take part in that, because I think it has reduced British political influence within the European political forum.

Mr Nuttall: I can assure my hon. Friend that not a single constituent of mine has ever expressed to me any dissatisfaction whatever with the position of the Conservatives in the European Parliament.

Martin Horwood rose—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Order. We are not actually discussing the position of the Conservative party anywhere in Europe; we are discussing the documents before us today. You can talk about article 17(7), Mr Horwood, but let us not venture any further.

Martin Horwood: Of course, Madam Deputy Speaker.

The second point is that there is an expression of what I used to call the Thatcher doctrine, which is to complain about the lack of democracy in the European Union but oppose all practical steps to increase democratic accountability because that would be seen as giving more legitimacy to the European tier of government. I think that is a regrettable approach.

Emma Reynolds: With regard to the motion, which mentions European political parties and their freedom to support candidates for Commission President, does the hon. Gentleman stand by the Deputy Prime Minister’s statement that the group the Conservatives joined in the European Parliament was made up of “nutters, anti-Semites and homophobes”?

Martin Horwood: I think that we are trying to raise the tone of the debate and not to refer to things that were said in the heat of the moment. I think that the Thatcherite idea that we should not give more democratic legitimacy is quite a destructive way to approach the European level of government. I am in favour of more democracy, more openness and more accountability.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: It is always too tempting to fail to intervene on my hon. Friend’s speeches, but the point that Margaret Thatcher was making was that there was no demos and that therefore there could be no democratic legitimacy. The first principle of democratic legitimacy is to have a people who care about each other.

Martin Horwood: Yes, and I think the European people do actually care about each other. When I take part in the councils of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe—I am looking forward to this over the next few months as we move towards our London congress, which I am proud to have taking place in this very city—I care about the welfare of people outside the United Kingdom, and I think that other Europeans care about the welfare of this country as well.

Kelvin Hopkins: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

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Martin Horwood: No, I will not; I really must draw my remarks to a conclusion.

I believe that there is a European demos. It is expressed in the European elections, perhaps in a quite fragmented way, but it is none the less an expression of European political views by the people of Europe in perfectly democratic elections. It is right that a European Parliament elected in that way should play an increasing role in determining how the European Union functions. In increasing democracy, openness and accountability, these are reasonably uncontroversial proposals.

4.45 pm

Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North) (Lab): I shall just make the point that I was going to put to the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) in an intervention. This idea about all Europeans caring about one another is fine—I love all my continental colleagues very much—but my identity is as a part of the British demos, not of a European demos, which I do not think exists. I think that was the point that the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) was making.

I am pleased to support my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton North East (Emma Reynolds), who spoke extremely well. I agree with everything she said, even though there might be a smidgen of difference between our views on the European Union generally. Even more happily, we both seem to be in agreement with the Minister and the Government. That makes this a rare event, but a happy occasion.

We must absolutely not have parties at European Union level. Even at national level, party elites are sometimes too far removed from their activists and their voters. Having party groupings at international level acting as parties would make the gap between the voters at the grass roots and those who govern us even greater. That would be completely unacceptable.

Another problem involves finding political parties to bond with. The Conservatives have understandably had problems finding a home. If I were in their position, I would be happy to stand separately, but I know that that would create a problem of securing positions on committees and so on. So far as Labour is concerned, we could be linked with Pasok in Greece, yet Pasok is now cemented together with New Democracy and inflicting appalling austerity on the working people of that country. I do not want to be seen to be supporting Pasok in what it is now doing. It should be standing up for working people and against austerity. Indeed, that is what we should all be doing. We can have links and, occasionally, loose friendships with other parties when seeking convenient political groupings, but forming single political parties across Europe would be another step on the way to creating a state of Europe—which some people clearly want—with the Commission and perhaps the European Parliament forming the European Government. That would be a giant step in the wrong direction.

Another giant step in that direction was the introduction of a system of proportional representation for elections to the European Parliament. My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton North East also mentioned this point. I have opposed such proposals before, and called in this Chamber for a return to first past the post and single Member constituencies. I hold to that position today. People would take the view that Europe was much more democratic if Members of the European

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Parliament represented a genuine constituency rather than an enormous region or even, in the case of Scotland and Wales, a country.

I oppose PR. I have opposed PR proposals for our own elections in Britain and for those in the European Parliament. Sadly, it has been used as a means of getting rid of the Eurosceptic left from the European parliamentary Labour party. Some 50% of the party’s 60 members were wiped out simply by being placed lower down the list, when the list system came out. They disappeared en masse. That certainly damaged our party, and it was very disappointing for the wing of the party that I belong to.

Another problem with the idea of having political parties at European level is that in many European countries there are two or three parties occupying the area that one party occupies in Britain. I recently visited Holland with the European Scrutiny Committee. It has a Socialist party and a Labour party whose Members sit next to each other, but in Britain they would easily be accommodated in our Labour party. If I were in Holland, it is conceivable that I would be in the Socialist party, but I would have to talk to them carefully about that.

There is a democratic deficit and, much as I deplore much of what Mrs Thatcher did, I think she was right to say that if we give too much democratic legitimacy to the European Union, democracy will start to leach away from our own national Parliaments, which would not be good. I want to see the democratic deficit addressed by restoring powers to national Parliaments, particularly the British Parliament. I want to see the restoration of effective power to the grass roots, including within parties. I am sure that all parties want that, but I want to see it in my party in particular.

Martin Horwood: If the hon. Gentleman thinks that holding elections at different levels leaches democracy away from other levels, does he think that democracy leaches away from the national level as a result of local elections or elections in London, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland?

Kelvin Hopkins: I think that power ranges over different levels. Over recent years we have seen power leached away from local government towards central Government. Local government is far less powerful than it was when I was a councillor 40 years ago. We had an enormous degree of independence that is no longer given to local government. If we allow too much of what we govern to go to the EU, democracy will leach away from our national Parliament. This is about powers. I want to see effective powers restored to national Parliaments, including—I discussed these in the Chamber earlier—those of the common fisheries policy and the common agricultural policy.

I also want first past the post, single Member constituencies and inner-party democracy in order to make sure that party activists, electors and ordinary people have real democratic power and feel that they have a stake in politics. If they do not feel that they have a stake, they might go elsewhere, which could be very dangerous and worrying for us all. When people feel that they can actually make a difference by being involved in politics and voting, that makes democracy meaningful. I would like to think that what we are suggesting today will help keep politics and democracy meaningful in Britain.

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4.51 pm

Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset) (Con): I am usually very nervous when there is an outbreak of complete consensus across the House. It is usually a sign that we are all getting things wrong together, but I think that this occasion is the exception that proves the rule. We have heard from my right hon. Friend the Minister, the hon. Member for Wolverhampton North East (Emma Reynolds) and, amazingly enough, the Lord High Almoner of pro-Europeanism, my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood).

Martin Horwood: The hon. Gentleman may like to know that when I was a candidate in the Cities of London and Westminster I was once described as the Eurosceptic wing of the Liberal Democrats. I think the implication was that it was not very big.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: I am sorry to say that my hon. Friend has been led down the path of temptation towards pro-Europeanism since he stood in the two cities.

We have heard a remarkable outbreak of consensus, which is important and is why the European Scrutiny Committee wanted the document debated. One of the things we learn from the processes of the European Union, particularly those of the Commission, is that things start at an early stage with a little document that has no legal force and is there for a general, genteel discussion. Nobody says very much about it, so the Commission assumes that there cannot be very much opposition to what is being proposed and that it is perfectly reasonable and achieving consensus. Then the document gets hardened up into a proposal and then into a directive or a regulation, and before we know where we are we are opposing a fully fledged, fully formed idea, which is, of course, much harder to do than when things are at an early stage, when the Commission can back down without significant loss of face and there has been no momentum in favour of the proposals.

I would caution us, none the less, against being too complacent about what the Commission may do next, because it has a treaty base—it is set out in the ESC report—for some of its proposals. The Minister has covered this, but article 10(4) of the treaty on European union says:

“Political parties at European level contribute to forming European political awareness and to expressing the will of citizens”.

The importance of a treaty base is that it gives the Commission the ability to bring forward proposals. Once it has the treaty base, although it may appear not to apply on a simple first reading, it can be used, it is justiciable before the European Court of Justice and it fits into the general European approach of centralising powers.

As you know, Madam Deputy Speaker, I am particularly concerned about article 17(7) of the treaty on European Union, which speaks of

“Taking into account the elections to the European Parliament”.

What the European Commission is trying to do—its own paper sets this out more clearly—is to establish the European Parliament as that which gives democratic legitimacy to the European Union. I contest that fundamentally. What gives democratic legitimacy to British involvement in the European Union is the European Communities Act 1972 and the sovereign will of this

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Parliament—a sovereign will that can be changed. I am therefore strongly opposed to the developing European theory that it is the European Parliament that is the basis of democratic legitimacy.

I would suggest that democratic legitimacy within Europe as it is currently constructed, based on the 1972 Act, lies with the Council of Ministers, because those Ministers are responsible to their sovereign Parliaments and have to report to them on what they have done. The paper from the Commission does not take that into account. Indeed, it tries to establish a new basis for the democratic legitimacy of the European Union.

If that view won widespread acceptance across member states, the question would arise as to whether our initial acceptance of powers for the European Union through the 1972 Act was still the basis of our membership or whether it had devolved to the new democratic structure set up by the European Commission and to the European Parliament. The Commission’s paper points strongly in that direction. Page 11 of the documents that we are discussing states:

“The role of the European Parliament as the representative democratic assembly of the Union has been underscored by the Lisbon Treaty.”

The same page speaks of

“the new definition of members of the European Parliament as ‘representatives of the Union’s citizens’ and not simply as ‘representatives of the peoples of the States brought together in the Community’.”

Even a straight reading of that shows the ambition of the Commission to build political validity through the European Parliament, which of course requires single European parties.

I am strongly opposed to single European parties, partly because if I put myself up in North East Somerset as representing the Conservative and Unionist party, plus a random collection of European parties, it would not help me, but also because it discriminates against parties that are very focused on their national interest. I was thinking about UKIP and what acronyms we might get if it coalesced with other parties across the continent. There would be FIP in France, DIP in Germany, HIP in Holland and GIP in Greece—GIP might be particularly appropriate in Greece. There would be a discrimination against parties that are particularly focused on the interests of their nation if we went down the route of what the European Commission proposes.

I am arguing that there is a fundamental flaw in the European Commission’s paper. That flaw is the idea that the European Parliament can be or is the body of democratic legitimacy for the European Union. By pushing that view, the Commission delegitimises national Parliaments and tries to accrete powers to itself, for example through the proposal on political parties, to promote its own view. It is therefore a matter for rejoicing, once again, on Waterloo day that there is such unanimity across the parties in this House. I hope that in two years’ time, when we have a full celebration of the 200th anniversary of Waterloo, funded by the Treasury, we will be safe and clear from aggressive Commission documents that try to steal powers from the British subject.

4.59 pm

Mr Lidington: I am grateful to all hon. Members who have taken part in the debate. I do not want to detain the House long, so I will try to reply briefly to the

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various questions raised. My hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris) asked how funding from European political parties and other EU sources might influence domestic election campaigns in the United Kingdom. I want to place on the record that participation in elections in this country, including European elections, is regulated by UK electoral law, and that includes the use of funding in campaigns. United Kingdom law prohibits the use of funding from sources outside the UK, including European political party funding. A prohibition on the use of EU funding by national political parties is included in the draft new European political party proposals—those are other EU documents that the House considered in Committee a few days ago.

The hon. Member for Wolverhampton North East (Emma Reynolds) asked whether the Commission is aware of the Government’s concerns about its communication, and the answer is a definite yes. Our—I was going to say reservation, but I think it is rather stronger than that— belief that the initiatives are simply misplaced and will not contribute to resolving the acknowledged democratic deficit of the European Union is well known, and United Kingdom officials and Ministers will continue to express their views on that in any future debates.

The hon. Lady asked about the position of the European Parliament, and as my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) said, the AFCO committee of the European Parliament has produced a report that covers much the same area of policy as that addressed by the Commission’s communication and recommendations. Like the Commission documents, that report points towards a greater role for European political parties and the European Parliament in determining the successor to President Barroso in the Commission. The plenary Session of the European Parliament is due to debate and vote on the report next month, and I cannot predict how it will vote on that occasion.

The hon. Lady’s final question concerned what future Commission initiatives we expect to follow up the proposals. At the moment, there is no sign that the Commission plans to go further than its published recommendations, and the Government’s view is that the longer that remains the case, the better. We do not think that the recommendations add anything to the democratic problems that Europe faces.

I can give some reassurance to my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) about articles 10(4) and 17(7) of the treaty on the European union. The full text of those articles contains a number of statements about how the European Union should organise its business, but there is no provision for the Commission to bring forward legislation and put it to the Council or Parliament. I would contrast that with the provisions in article 223(1) of the treaty on the functioning of the European Union, to which I referred earlier. That provides for changes to the law to be initiated by the Commission, and to be subject to the unanimous agreement of all member states. The enabling power for new legislation is not included in the text of articles 10 and 17, and that is why I said that the only way it would be possible to impose a mandate on the European Council to limit its nominations for President of the European Commission to lead candidates nominated by European political parties, or even to the lead candidate of the leading party after a European election, would be

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through the mechanism of treaty change. As my hon. Friend probably knows as well as anyone else in the House, that would require a process and certainly the unanimous agreement of every member state, and have national ratifications.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: My question might be too hypothetical, but if the Council puts forward somebody who has never been associated with a political party, would that be challengeable in the European Court of Justice?

Mr Lidington: In theory, anything is challengeable, in the same way that almost any Executive decision in this country is challengeable under judicial review. Our view is that the duty on the European Council is no more and no less than that provided in article 17(7), which is to have regard to the outcome of the European Parliament elections and engage in the appropriate consultations. If the intention of the authors of the TEU had been a mandate, it would be spelled out in the wording of the treaty. My hon. Friend is right that there is an ambition on the part of a number of people in the Commission and the European Parliament not to seek treaty change—not at the moment, at least—but to bring about a working assumption that national Governments assembled in the European Council should limit themselves in the way they wish. As I have said, we strongly resist that assumption.

I conclude on this point. We have a set of recommendations that are not legally binding, and there is currently no suggestion of legislative proposals from the Commission to give effect to its recommendations. Any such legislative proposals would need the unanimous agreement of every member state, under whichever treaty article they are brought forward. I believe—this was the view on both sides of the House—that the recommendations are fundamentally misplaced. There is a serious problem across the EU, with public disaffection with the EU and how its decisions are taken rising to record levels. We have seen that reflected in part in the rise of populist parties—some democratic, some undemocratic and neo-fascist—in many different EU countries. For that real problem to be addressed, the EU needs to show in its priorities that it is focused on those things that really matter to the prosperity and security of the peoples of Europe. The arrangements by which the EU takes decisions needs to be reformed in a way that gives greater influence and authority to national Parliaments, to which Heads of Government and Ministers in the Council are ultimately accountable.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House takes note of European Union Document No. 7648/13, a Commission Communication on preparing for the 2014 European elections and enhancing their democratic and efficient conduct, and No. 7650/13, a Commission Recommendation on enhancing the democratic and efficient conduct of the elections to the European Parliament; notes that whilst European political parties are free to support candidates for Commission President, this does not limit the European Council’s selection of a candidate; agrees with the Government that the suggestion for a common voting day across the EU is unhelpful and would achieve the opposite of the stated intention of increasing voter turnout; and further notes that there is currently no indication that these documents are going to be followed up by formal legislative proposals.

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Backbench Business

Sudan and South Sudan

5.8 pm

Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): I beg to move,

That this House has considered the Government’s role in supporting peace and development in Sudan and South Sudan.

I thank the Backbench Business Committee for its decision to grant a request that I and several other hon. Members made to ensure that the House had this overdue debate on Sudan and South Sudan. The hon. Member for City of Chester (Stephen Mosley) and I went before the Committee last week, and although some of the other dozen hon. Members who had supported the petition were unable to attend because of their involvement in debates in the Chamber or in Committee business, we were successful in arranging the debate for an earlier date than we had reckoned.

Mr Tom Clarke (Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues on securing the debate. United Nations resolution 1591 was passed in 2005, and its intentions were clear. Is it not despicable that the international community still has not responded to them?

Mark Durkan: I welcome the right hon. Gentleman’s support in securing this debate and I absolutely accept his point. Signals given by the international community, and promises made in various peace agreements by those in Sudan and South Sudan, were not always followed through. It is important that we take time to address this issue in the Chamber.

The previous debate on Sudan and South Sudan took place in spring 2011, in the countdown to South Sudan’s independence. At that time, there was some hope about the new country’s prospects. There was hope that more of the comprehensive peace agreement would come to fruition if it had a framework or context in which to work. The hopes and goodwill of NGOs and others in the international community were tragically dashed. The effect on the lives of so many people in both countries was cruel.

We sought this debate because we are coming up to the second anniversary of South Sudan’s independence and because we recently marked the 10th anniversary of the conflict in Darfur. Hon. Members from all parties wrote to the Foreign Secretary, the US Secretary of State and the Australian Foreign Minister to raise concerns about policy drift on Darfur. Perhaps we have been remiss as parliamentarians in not addressing this issue in this Chamber, but we know why that has happened. Other events have caught our attention: the Arab spring and its complex aftermath and the situations in Mali and Syria have taken our focus. The danger is that the international community is giving a signal that what is happening in Darfur is par for the course and there is not a lot more that we can do about it beyond the commitments we have previously made.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): The sadness is that this situation has been going on for so long. Some 20 years ago, my wife worked in southern Sudan for the International Committee of the Red Cross, and it was a

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basket case then. It is about time the world got together and sorted out this dreadful situation, so that the people there can live peacefully and bring up their children properly.

Mark Durkan: I recognise the passion of the hon. Gentleman’s intervention, and that is exactly why this debate is necessary. There is a danger that because South Sudan has been established, we think it can make its merry way forward, but it is a fragile state—the world’s youngest. It lacks serious governmental and administrative infrastructure, and there is a gross disparity in the position of women and girls in its society. For decades now, these people have suffered from the effects of conflict, and they are still suffering. Even now, seven of the 10 states in South Sudan display features of conflict and the depredations that come with it.

Sir Tony Cunningham (Workington) (Lab): I recognise that this is a political debate with a Foreign Office lead, but does my hon. Friend not agree that there is still a huge humanitarian crisis in the area too?

Mark Durkan: I fully accept what the hon. Gentleman says—of course there is a humanitarian crisis, as I think many other hon. Members will also emphasise.

Since the fact of this debate was published, I have been struck by how many of us have been contacted by non-governmental organisations, which have provided urgent briefings and said how glad they are that we are having this debate. It is particularly telling that some of them said, “You cannot give out the locality-specific information that we are giving to you, because it could be traced back to us and compromise NGO operatives and associates in particular regions.” Their nervousness about being named and about their briefings being traced speaks volumes about the situation and their bravery and good work.

These NGOs do not take the side of particular political interests; theirs is purely a humanitarian effort, and like the Government—I know that we will hear from the Minister later—they welcome and encourage any positive steps, whether in the relationship between Sudan and South Sudan or towards improving conditions in the two countries. They are also clear about the risks and about the trespasses against human rights and humanitarian standards that take place all too frequently and are seemingly met with indifference. In Darfur, for instance, the United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur has recently seemed to be saying, “Well, because there has been statistical easement in some features of the humanitarian crisis in Darfur, we should treat that as though the crisis is ending,” but clearly it is not ending. Even when there are statistical easements, factors and circumstances change, whether it is factors of conflict or seasonal factors or other trepidations that interfere with the situation, and as a result, people find themselves in an ever graver plight, so we cannot act like this is done and dusted on the basis of comprehensive peace agreements that are given only faltering acknowledgment.

I hope that the Minister will explain not only how engaged the British Government are with the political interests in both countries, but how much support they are giving to, and how engaged they are with, the various NGOs. I hope that he will also indicate how well the UK engagement effort works with that of the EU,

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given that the EU is the single biggest donor in the area, and respond to questions about the UN’s role. Given the misgivings about the UN’s action and the lack of reportage and serious monitoring in Sri Lanka, fundamental questions remain about UNAMID’s competence and sense of purpose in Darfur, where it does not report every transgression with equal seriousness.

Mr Tom Clarke: I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend for being so generous in giving way. When he refers to agencies, including the United Nations agencies, does he agree that UNAMID falls short of its mandate of civilian protection and that many people have suffered because of that?

Mark Durkan: I fully agree with the right hon. Gentleman. We have all heard UNAMID described as the most expensive and least effective peacekeeping operation in the history of the world. UNAMID stands indicted, but if we do not seek to address and ameliorate that in some way, we, too, will stand indicted as parliamentarians.

The range of issues that can be addressed in this debate, and certainly the range of issues that have reached us in briefings from non-governmental organisations, is wide, but those issues also run deep. I do not intend to rehearse them all in opening this debate; the main point is to allow other Members to reflect those points and concerns, as well as the fact that, from time to time, there are indications of hope from these regions. That happens not just when we see flickering developments—all too often cancelled out later—in political engagement, dialogue, talks, deals on oil flows, and so on, but in relation to the potential to build and improve capacity in both countries. However, the key to that is overcoming the difficulties of conflict and all the preoccupations, the distractions and the depletion of resources and potential that conflict represents. That is why the international community owes more than just humanitarian support to the people of these two countries.

Mr William Bain (Glasgow North East) (Lab): I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the best ways in which we can diminish the conflict between South Sudan and Sudan is to implement in full the oil agreement signed last September? Is he aware that last year, when the rest of sub-Saharan Africa was seeing annual GDP growth of between 5% and 6%, GDP fell by 55% in South Sudan and by nearly 1% in Sudan? Is that not what is driving the continued problems between both states and leading to some of the health and education indicators we are seeing?

Mark Durkan: The hon. Gentleman is right. He has great insight into both countries, given that he so ably chairs the all-party group on Sudan and South Sudan. He rightly points to some of the declining profiles for South Sudan. I have many statistics on the social experience in Sudan and economic conditions. I do not intend to turn my opening speech into a presentation of the grave statistics on both countries, but some useful contributions can be made in this debate by a number of hon. Members.

When we look at both countries, it is important not only to look at them together in their historical and regional context, given some of the issues of conflict,

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but to look at them in their own right and, in particular, at the people of each country in their own right. I have referred to Darfur, but it is not the only place in Sudan where we see violence waged by the Government of Sudan against their own citizens. Only last week—I am sure other hon. Members will refer to this—we had a chilling report from Amnesty International entitled “We had no time to bury them”, which highlighted war crimes in Sudan’s Blue Nile state. That report, based on extensive interviews—where Amnesty International could conduct them—satellite images and the examination of various records, mounts a devastating critique of what the Sudanese Government have been able to do against their own people. That follows the pattern we saw in Darfur, although it is not confined to the Blue Nile state, but can be found in South Kordofan as well.

That gives rise to the obvious question that many people ask: how is it that we appear to be maintaining lines of engagement and agreeing aid packages, as part of multilateral rounds, with the Government in Sudan—because we want to help the people of Darfur—in ways that do not chime with our attitude to the behaviour of the former Libyan regime or the current Syrian regime or our attitude in other similar circumstances? I understand why the Government make their commitment alongside others, for instance, in the context of the Doha conference earlier this year. I know, however, that this House has heard from Darfurians who basically say that this is rewarding ethnic cleansing and doing nothing for victims. They fear that some of those moneys could end up being used by that same Government to further their violence against their own civilians. I am not saying that that is absolutely so or that there are no guarantees or measures to prevent or proof against that risk, but it is a risk that is genuinely felt. We have heard it genuinely expressed here within the precincts of this House, so I hope that the Minister will, as well as responding to questions from hon. Members, address those questions that come naturally from concerned citizens in Sudan and South Sudan.

I want to allow other hon. Members to speak. I am sure that they will cover the other points I would have made, and I look forward to hearing them.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. We have six speakers and about one hour’s time, so I suggest Members try to take that into account when they speak.

5.26 pm

Stephen Mosley (City of Chester) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) on securing the debate and also on the good points that he made. I heard another Member saying that this was a political debate; it is a political debate, but I say as a Conservative Member that I agreed with everything the hon. Gentleman said. He is quite right: it is two years since we last debated Sudan, when we held a Westminster Hall debate in the spring of 2011. At that time, the comprehensive peace agreement was being implemented. We were seeing the end of a 22-year civil war that had killed 2 million people, with 4 million people having left their homes.

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January 2011 saw a successful referendum in South Sudan, with 98.8% of the population voting in favour of independence.

Some concerns were expressed in our debate—over the future of Abyei, for example, where the referendum had been cancelled and postponed. There were concerns over South Kordofan and the Blue Nile state, as public consultations on the future of those two states were meant to take place, but had not happened. Then, too, the ongoing conflict in Darfur was at the forefront of our minds. On the whole, however, hope and optimism for the future were expressed in that debate. There was a belief that the independence of South Sudan would mean a new beginning for both north and South Sudan at that time.

I saw that myself when I visited Khartoum in June 2011. At this point, I should mention my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, which records my visit. This was a few weeks before South Sudan gained independence, and while we were there, we met Government Ministers, people from the National Congress party, embassy staff, Department for International Development staff, local businesses and representatives of the local Coptic church. When we met those people, we noted a huge amount of hope for the future. It was believed that 9 July 2011 would mean a new beginning for both Sudan and South Sudan.

One thing we picked up while we were there, and which is particularly relevant to this Parliament, was the high regard many people had for the United Kingdom. We were shocked to hear that the majority of cabinet members in Sudan were, despite all the problems, either educated in the UK or held British passports. There was an immense well of good will towards the UK and a huge desire among all the people we spoke to to increase links, trade and investment with us. There was a big will for Britain to get more involved in Sudan.

It is now, of course, two years since South Sudan got its independence, but I am afraid to say that many of the hopes we had two years ago have been dashed. Both Sudan and South Sudan are considered to be fragile states. Both countries face terrible humanitarian and development challenges, and the indicators are some of the worst in the world. It is 10 years since the start of the conflict in Darfur, and there is still no end in sight. Concerns remain about the Khartoum Government and their refusal to negotiate, comply with international law, and cease violence.

When I was preparing for the debate over the weekend, I read some newspaper articles about Sudan. Three of them jumped out at me immediately. I want to tell the House about them, because they give an impression of what is happening out there at the moment.

It was a tweet from the Minister that drew my attention to the first item. It concerned the shelling of a United Nations base which killed an Ethiopian peacekeeper and injured two more. It took place in Kadugli, in South Kordofan, and is thought to have been the work of fighters from the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North—SPLM-N—supported by South Sudan. The UN does not have a mission in South Kordofan, but it has one in Abyei, and the base was being used as a supply depot for that.

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The article suggested that the rebels were targeting a football ground, as a football tournament was due to begin there today, but, as always in Sudan, it is not clear who was responsible. The UN Security Council and the Secretary General have condemned the attack and called on Sudan to bring the perpetrators to justice, but we do not know who those perpetrators are. It is assumed that they are members of SPLM-N, but we do not know for certain.

The second news item was about an oil pipeline that had been attacked in Abyei. In this case, the Sudan Government blame the South Sudan-backed rebels, but both the rebels and South Sudan deny responsibility. The attack came just days after Sudan had announced a further blockade of South Sudanese oil, which is due to begin in six weeks’ time. We heard from the hon. Member for Glasgow North East (Mr Bain) that an agreement had been reached last autumn to allow oil to flow through the pipeline in Sudan, but that agreement now seems to have broken down, and within six weeks the embargo will be reinstated.

Mr Bain: The hon. Gentleman is presenting a powerful and convincing argument. Does he agree that both states will be harmed by the shutting down of oil production, and that the hardship will be felt not just in Juba but in Khartoum? Does he also agree that we need a comprehensive agreement in relation to the disputed territories, and, in particular, a final resolution, through a referendum, of the future status of Abyei?

Stephen Mosley: I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman. I think that the importance of oil in the relationship between Sudan and South Sudan is clear to all of us. Approximately 75% of the oil reserves are in South Sudan, and approximately 25% are in north Sudan. The South Sudanese Government are particularly dependent on oil revenues for their taxation income—I have heard that as much as 98% of South Sudan’s income derives from oil—but any measures that impede the flow of oil affect not just South Sudan but Sudan. They affect the oilfields on the northern side of the border. We must recognise that oil has a huge part to play, and ensure that any agreements that are reached to deliver permanent peace deliver a solution to the oil problems as well.

The third news story related to Jonglei, one of the states in South Sudan. Apparently, South Sudanese Government forces were blocking aid for 120,000 people who had fled to Jonglei to escape ethnic fighting. It is estimated that seven of the 10 South Sudanese states are currently in turmoil, and that fighting is taking place there.

Mr Tom Clarke: The hon. Gentleman is making a very well-informed and lucid speech. He has referred to events over the weekend, but is he aware that, as recently as last Sunday, an aerial attack carried out by the Sudanese air force on a village in Darfur killed a mother and her two children, aged five and seven? Sadly, the situation is ongoing.

Stephen Mosley: The question of aerial bombardment features large across all the problem areas in Sudan. The hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) mentioned the situation in Blue Nile state, and there have been regular bombing incidents in South Kordofan and Darfur.

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The Sudanese Government are also laying landmines, which is another concern. Both those things are contrary to international conventions, and both of them are classified as war crimes: deliberately targeting civilians is classified as a war crime. The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that four members of the Sudanese Government, including President Omar al-Bashir, are wanted by the international courts on war crime charges.

I would put South Sudan’s problems into two categories: they involve the relationship between South Sudan and north Sudan, but they also involve the internal problems facing South Sudan. There are many unresolved issues between Juba and Khartoum at present. We have talked about oil, so I will not dwell on that subject. There are also the problems over South Kordofan and Blue Nile, and the questions about their future. There was meant to be a consultation on the future of those two states, but it has not happened.

We have for years been promised a referendum in Abyei, so people in Abyei can decide whether they want to be part of the south or the north. Because many of the farmers in that area are migratory, there has been wrangling over the electoral roll for years; no decision can be reached, so there can be no agreement on a referendum. We have been promised that there will be a referendum this autumn, but we have been promised a referendum before, so we will have to wait and see whether it takes place.

There are also issues about support for rebel groups. Both the Sudanese Government and the South Sudanese Government are supporting rebel groups in each other’s territory. There are issues to do with the migration paths of pastoralists, too, who travel across the border on a seasonal basis. There are not just cross-border issues, however. South Sudan faces internal problems. There is conflict in seven of the 10 South Sudanese states. There is ethnic and tribal violence. South Sudan is not an elected democracy. Broad powers are given to the Executive, and we see high levels of corruption.

There is also a huge problem of lack of state capacity and infrastructure. South Sudan is one of the hardest places in the world to reach, and once there, it is incredibly difficult to travel about the country and reach some of the more isolated states.

Bob Stewart: I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate. My wife was a delegate of the International Committee of the Red Cross in South Sudan. Indeed, she was taken hostage there by rebel groups. She set up a camp from scratch for 100,000 people. She firmly believes that one of the problems now is that we have set up these camps in inhospitable places, where we have to resupply them and keep them going. By doing that, we have caused a problem in an area that cannot sustain such a large population. These camps attract people. Hard as it would have been, perhaps we should not have done so much.

Stephen Mosley: I do not know that I agree with that, but my hon. Friend is right that many of the camps are very isolated and difficult to reach. There is some good news, however. A new camp has recently been completed at Ajoung Thok, and it has a very good reputation. The agencies are gradually moving people there from more isolated camps. They can supply them with food and water there, and allow them to start making the long-term

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decisions that will enable them to set down roots and start to develop livelihoods in those areas, because that is also a problem with humanitarian aid, and we have faced it in Sudan in the past. People are quick to supply food and emergency aid, but we are not so quick in providing more long-term solutions that allow people to survive and live on their own over time.

The hon. Member for Foyle mentioned non-governmental organisations, and while preparing for this debate we met representatives of a number of them. Normally when we speak to NGOs, we find that they are desperate for MPs to stand up in this Chamber to sing their praises and tell Members of this House about the good work they are doing. On Sudan and South Sudan the NGOs deliberately said, “No, we don’t want you to say what we’re doing. We don’t want you to say where we are doing it.” They face so many problems that they are afraid that if they highlight their situation, they may face repercussions. They have told us that they already face restrictions on visas, and the cost of permits is going through the roof. They are finding that it is becoming more restrictive to operate in both Sudan and South Sudan, and they asked us to make sure that when we talk about their situation, we talk in general terms rather than in specifics.

What we do know is that 1 million people remain displaced by the fighting, with more than 300,000 having been displaced since January—that is more than for the whole of last year. The problems in Sudan and South Sudan have not gone away; they are in a real mess. There is continued armed conflict and human rights abuse, and hundreds of thousands of people have fled and are living in camps.

This is a debate on the UK Government’s response to Sudan, so I wish briefly to mention the Sudan Humanitarian Assistance and Resilience Programme—SHARP—which the Department for International Development is running. The idea is to spend £67 million over three years, with half of that being in Darfur and the rest in the Blue Nile and South Kordofan states. The idea is to build household and community resilience, and to allow people to move on from aid dependence. It is a long-term project, and I congratulate the Minister and the Department on the work they are doing to ensure long-term success.

Sudan and South Sudan are not a problem that can be solved on its own by this country or by themselves; it needs all the international community to work together to help resolve the conflicts they face.

5.41 pm

Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): First, I congratulate the hon. Members responsible for securing today’s debate and ensuring that these issues were debated in this Chamber. I hope to take only a few minutes, because other hon. Members are experts on this area and I am most certainly not. However, I wish to put on the record my concerns and, as these have also been expressed to me by many constituents, it is good to have the opportunity to do so.

As the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) pointed out, Sudan and South Sudan is very much an area of the world where because some progress appears to have been made, the problem appears to have been solved—we know it has not been—and the world’s attention has

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focused elsewhere; the world moves on and we pay attention to other crises. Although positive steps have clearly been taken in the establishment of South Sudan, the problem has not gone away. Nobody expected that South Sudan’s independence would suddenly solve the problems overnight, but all of us would probably not have expected such a deterioration in the situation since independence. Plenty of fighting is going on. We recognise that a full-scale war is not—we hope—on the agenda, but the deterioration of the situation is such that all sorts of crises will develop or get worse. Perhaps this has been a classic example of how it is always easy to start wars in different parts of the world but very hard to end them and solve the underlying difficulties.

Hon. Members have given examples of the problems. One is clearly the failure to ensure that the peace agreement reached in Ethiopia was implemented. As my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North East (Mr Bain) pointed out, another is that the income levels of people in South Sudan have dropped, whereas those in the rest of Africa are increasing. That reflects the failure to resolve the issues concerning oil, which, as he pointed out, affect both South Sudan and Sudan. South Sudan could be one of the richest countries in Africa if the oil was being allowed to flow. So a resolution of that problem is important for all sides.

We have heard about the fighting, not just on both sides of, and across, the border between Sudan and South Sudan but within South Sudan, as well about the conflict and, to put it bluntly, repression continuing in Darfur. There are the issues with refugees and displaced persons to which the hon. Member for City of Chester (Stephen Mosley) referred, as well as problems with the lack of free media and with the ability of NGOs to operate, which occur on both sides of the border. There are also issues with weaknesses in civil governance and, in many respects, worse than weaknesses as regards freedom in both countries. Food shortages are increasingly a problem in many parts of both countries. The ongoing problem persists in Darfur and we have not solved it 10 years on—in many ways, we have not moved forward. We continue to see repression and fighting. The responsibility does not lie in only one place, but clearly we know where the main responsibility lies.

I want to highlight, in keeping with the theme of the debate, what the UK can do to try to move matters in a more positive direction and I want to ask the Minister a number of questions about how the UK will continue to play a role. Many Members have mentioned the United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur. Clearly, its weaknesses are extreme and its mandate needs to be strengthened. We need more than that and I would be interested to know the UK Government’s view on how it can be taken forward.

The weaknesses of UNAMID also reflect the weaknesses in capacity of the UN and the African Union in the area. Much is made of the AU and of its weaknesses, but we should not forget that we increasingly expect it to play a major role in a number of different areas of conflict in Africa. It is involved in Mali, the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo and Somalia. Crises are developing in other areas. The situation is increasingly worrying in sub-Saharan Africa and, as the Minister will be aware, in the Central African Republic.

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Donor fatigue is also an issue. Countries are not pledging the money that is needed or that has been promised. The UK has been good in that respect, but other countries have not, and I would be interested to know the Minister’s perspective on that.

Mr Bain: Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the best ways in which the UK Government could continue to have a positive impact on both states would be to retain the Sudan unit? It was founded by our right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) and it brings together the development, humanitarian and diplomatic functions of the UK Government in relation to both states. Would it not be a good idea in terms of aims such as expanding smallholder agriculture and empowering women in both states if we were able to retain the Sudan unit well into the future?

Mark Lazarowicz: Absolutely. That brings me to my final point: although it is important to deal with the immediate, pressing crisis, we need to try to consider ways of establishing security for the long term. One important way of providing security as well as peace settlements that stand the test of time is to ensure that there is food security. That tackles some of the immediate crises affecting the community and, by removing some of them, relieves some of the pressure on Government.

The UK Government have taken the lead in many areas. They cannot solve all the problems themselves—no one ever suggested they should—but I would certainly like to know what the UK Government intend to do to take the situation forward, given the increasingly serious situation in many parts of Sudan and South Sudan.

5.48 pm

Pauline Latham (Mid Derbyshire) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) on securing the debate, as well as my hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester (Stephen Mosley). South Sudan and Sudan are very important areas in Africa and when South Sudan seceded from Sudan in 2011, the hopes of the world were there. Everybody thought it would work, albeit with many difficulties, including having to build a nation from scratch. Unfortunately, they are in a desperate situation. I visited the region with the Select Committee on International Development and our report shows a lot of the problems that there are.

As my hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester said, one cannot get about in South Sudan. One has to fly from one place to another, which is fine for us westerners going in, but impossible for the local population. There are about 15 km of made-up road in the whole country, which makes nonsense of local people trying to get anywhere.

So many people have been sent back from Khartoum even though they have lived there for generations. Because their origins are in South Sudan, they have been told that they are South Sudanese and they must return to their own country. However, the people who came from Khartoum and the surrounding areas spoke only Arabic. They may be well qualified—for example, as doctors or engineers. They had a wealth of western-style qualifications, but when they got back to South Sudan—they had never been there, neither had their parents or, in some cases, their grandparents, but they were classified as South Sudanese—they could not converse with the

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local people, who speak English as well as their own local language. So there was no way that those people, who were well qualified, could get jobs.

Those arriving in South Sudan had no homes to go to. They were put into camps, where there were no latrines. In the camp that we visited, there was open defecation, which is appalling, given that the area that we went to is often flooded. All the open defecation would then flood through the camp. The worry for the mothers of the children—some of the children had travelled with them and some had been born in the camp since they arrived—was that as there were no latrines, they had to go out quite a long way from the camp to be able to go to the toilet, which meant that they were frightened for their safety.

We, the UN and all the international agencies have a responsibility, when building camps, to provide latrines where children and women in particular can feel safe to go. None of that has happened in South Sudan. It must happen there and everywhere that camps are built; otherwise there will be rape and violence against women, girls and children, which is totally unacceptable.

There was no education going on for the people who had come back, so they could not even learn the local languages. They had no jobs to go to. Some of the people we met had been in the camp for nine months and had not even seen a doctor. One girl I spoke to had some form of chest infection. She was coughing badly, but she had had no access to any medical professional of any sort since she had been there. She had caught the chest infection or whatever it was on the march back, because the people had had to walk much of the way back to South Sudan. I keep saying “back” but of course it is not their home: they were born and brought up in Khartoum, but they had had to go to their place of origin.

It seemed to me that these people were being totally disadvantaged because the Sudanese Government had said, “We want everybody out.” It is still happening. We saw areas where the troops were and where there had been problems. We had to be very careful. The civil war that has been going on for generations in what had originally been Sudan has not stopped. We have heard today that there is no cessation to the civil war.

The humanitarian and development challenges in South Sudan remain and will continue for some time to come. We went there last year, but this year there are still people stranded at railway stations. Some 40,000 people remain stranded in open areas around Khartoum because they cannot get to South Sudan. A further 3,500 people have been stranded at Kosti railway station in White Nile state for more than 15 months. GDP is rising in other African countries by between 5% and 7%, but here it is bound to go down when such numbers cannot contribute to the country’s economic well-being.

James Duddridge (Rochford and Southend East) (Con): My hon. Friend is a great advocate for international development. Far too often these trips are talked down, but clearly it is incredibly valuable to go there and speak from the heart and about the reality of what has happened. Much to my shame, I have not read the detail of the report. I would be interested in an analysis of its recommendations and to what degree the Government have already been able to respond and take action.

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Pauline Latham: The Government are doing a lot of hard work and are working on the report’s recommendations. I do not have the report with me so I cannot go into the detail of each individual recommendation, but the coalition Government are working hard to alleviate the problems in South Sudan, and DFID is doing a lot of work in the Blue Nile area and South Kordofan. DFID is doing a huge amount of work with women and girls to make their lives much better. DFID is keen to promote the well-being and safety of women and girls, which have not been priorities for the Sudanese and South Sudanese Governments. The previous Secretary of State for International Development sent a huge number of textbooks to the schools, but when we returned from South Sudan we met its Education Minister, who said that it was great to get the textbooks, but it does not have the buildings or teachers to put them to use. Not just the children but the adults coming from the north into South Sudan need education so that they can get jobs and be economically active. Often they are skilled people, having lived a western lifestyle, but they cannot function if they cannot speak the language. As we all know, the older one gets, the longer it takes to learn a language, although being immersed in it makes it much easier.

I strongly believe that South Sudan could still be a success if the fighting stopped. I do not believe that the UN is doing as good a job as it could. It could work much harder to reduce the conflict and to work with the people in the area to make sure that they are safe and feel safe. It is important that the oil flow continues, because with the oil will come prosperity. Both the north and the south can be prosperous. They need that income to be able to build South Sudan, which is a beautiful country and needs investment for people to survive. It needs roads, schools, and hospitals and medical care. The standard of the very few there are is very poor. The north of the country, as it was when it was united, has starved South Sudan of resources. In Khartoum and in the north it is great, but in the south no one has anything. Our Government are working hard to help and mediation work is going on, but we need to ensure that the south can build and renew itself and become a proper functioning country. Until then, and until the violence and war end, it will never succeed. It could succeed, but we will need to work very hard to provide all those services. Our Government are providing a lot, as are other Governments, but that needs to continue for some time to come.

5.59 pm

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): It is an absolute pleasure to contribute to the debate. I congratulate the hon. Members for Foyle (Mark Durkan) and for City of Chester (Stephen Mosley) on securing it and the Backbench Business Committee on giving the House an opportunity to state its commitment to the democratic process in Sudan and South Sudan. Like the other Members who have spoken, I am very interested in peace and development in both countries. It is essential that the British Government do everything in their power to apply diplomatic pressure and to offer practical help in order to see true peace and development in both countries.

Those Members who have heard me speak about Sudan before will know of my concern—it remains—about the persecution of Christians and how that relates to the development of those countries. Members have

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spoken about many issues relating to the conflict, such as the need for education, health, schooling, hospitals, better roads, jobs and so on, and the humanitarian needs. Those are all important, but we must also consider the persecution of Christians. Last month I read an interesting report, and I have been waiting for the appropriate time to bring it to Members’ attention. Now is that time.

Oil is the critical factor, as other Members have said. We are well aware of the impact oil can have and what it can lead to, so we know how important it is for Sudan and South Sudan. Last February I had the opportunity to visit Kenya with the armed forces parliamentary scheme and to meet some of those involved in eastern Africa and to hear the political overtures being made there. Many thought that the way to address the issue might be to take an oil pipeline through Kenya, but it was apparent from the discussions we had, and from the political point of view and that of the army, that Kenya seemed reluctant to do that.

The defeat of the Sudanese army in a battle with rebel forces last month prompted concerns that the Government will retaliate by increasing their already intense pressure on the country’s minority Christians. That cannot be allowed to happen. Sudan’s Minister for guidance and endowments, Al-Fatih Taj El-sir, announced in April that no new licences for building churches would be issued—I hope that we never have to appoint a Minister for guidance and endowments in this place, because it would be a sad day if we came to that. The Minister explained the decision by claiming that no new churches had been established since South Sudan’s secession in July 2011. That was due, in his opinion, to a lack of worshippers and a growth in the number of abandoned church buildings. The reason was that most of those people were being repatriated to South Sudan. He said that there was no need for any new churches. He also said that freedom to worship is guaranteed in Sudan, but quite clearly it is not.

Missionaries from my constituency are working in Sudan, and I have been made aware, through their church, of some of the things happening there. There is a real need for the Government to address the issue. I hope that the Minister will be able to do that in his winding-up speech. Days before that announcement, the Catholic Information Service for Africa reported that a senior South Sudanese Catholic priest, Father Maurino, and two expatriate missionaries had been deported on 12 April. The two missionaries, one from France and the other from Egypt, work with children in Khartoum. According to Father Maurino, no reason was given for the deportations. He added that Christians were in trouble in Sudan as the Government were seeking to Islamise the country and eliminate the Christian presence. That makes the humanitarian crisis even greater.

In a published briefing, Christian Solidarity Worldwide has stated that since December it

“has noted an increase in arrests, detentions and deportations of Christians and of those suspected of having links to them, particularly in Khartoum and Omdurman, Sudan’s largest cities. There has also been a systematic targeting of members of African ethnic groups, particularly the Nuba, lending apparent credence to the notion of the resurgence of an official agenda of Islamisation and Arabisation…The campaign of repression continued into 2013, with foreign Christians being arrested and deported at short notice, and those from Sudan facing arrest, detention and questioning

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by the security services, as well as the confiscation of property such as mobile phones, identity cards and laptops. In addition to the arrests and deportations, local reports cite a media campaign warning against ‘Christianisation’.”

Those cases have been backed up not only by Christian Solidarity but by Release International, Open Doors and many other missionary organisations and Churches.

William Stark, an Africa specialist for International Christian Concern, told WorldNetDaily that President Bashir had attempted to paint the rebels as Christian troublemakers. Let us put it clearly on record that that they are not. How dare Bashir blame those with Christian beliefs for what is taking place? His Government have been fighting insurgents, whom he has labelled “Christian troublemakers”. Open Doors spokesman Jerry Dykstra has said that, despite the flimsy connection with Christianity, the Sudanese Government are calling for a war against those who do not believe in Islam or in jihad, and turning the teeth of their attacks on Christians.

I ask the Department for International Development or the Foreign Office to intervene and ascertain the intentions of Bashir and his Government. As things stand, Christian organisations representing missionaries and Churches are reporting that Churches have been closed and that foreign workers accused of proselytising have been expelled. Are the Government aware of this? What is being done to help those in that situation? To put it simply, there can be no peace and development in Sudan until there is an end to persecution. I ask the Minister to respond to these points and also to the points that have been made on humanitarian aid, health, education, roads and jobs, and on the humanitarian crisis that is taking place in Sudan and South Sudan.

6.6 pm

Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): I join others in paying tribute to the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) for securing this debate, and to the extraordinary resilience of the people of Sudan and South Sudan, who have undergone what, for most of us, are unimaginable levels of suffering over the years. I also want to pay tribute to the international members of the non-governmental organisations, including the many British aid workers involved, and to their local partners. My former parliamentary researcher, Anna Harvey, was working in Sudan before she came to work for me in this place. She spoke of a beautiful country and of lovely, welcoming people, but the area in which she worked was engulfed in violence some years later.

What has happened to those beautiful countries is a great tragedy. We are talking about 500,000 people having died in Darfur province alone, and 2.5 million people still being dependent on food aid there. The hon. Member for Foyle was right to point out that the aid agencies pleaded with us for years not to ignore the unfolding humanitarian catastrophe in Darfur, but the international community was collectively very late in acting in a concerted way. He was also right to say that we must not let Darfur, Sudan and South Sudan slip off the political agenda again.

The hon. Member for Glasgow North East (Mr Bain) pointed out the contrast between the two Sudanese countries and the rest of Africa, parts of which are now seeing phenomenal economic, political and democratic progress. Sudan and South Sudan are noticeably divergent in their failure to achieve development objectives or to

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make progress on human rights and democracy. People often say that war is development in reverse, and that is true. It is the continuing conflicts besetting those two countries that are responsible for this state of affairs.

I do not suppose many people thought that independence in 2011 would provide a magical cure to those conflicts, but many were more hopeful that some of the issues might be resolved after the Addis Ababa deal in 2012. However, we still have the unresolved issue of the border around Abyei, where the continuing lack of a referendum is inciting violence and encouraging attempts to displace people. There are also continued interruptions to oil supplies and a lack of oil flow, both of which are damaging the prosperity in the north and the south—and both sides are clearly supporting military rebels, in breach of the Addis Ababa agreement.

Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): Another problem is that of regional terrorism, whereby support is sometimes given by, for example, groups in Yemen to groups in Sudan that want to undermine what is happening there. A lot of evidence suggests that there are dealings between the two groups of terrorists, who seek to undermine both countries.

Martin Horwood: The right hon. Gentleman speaks with great knowledge and I am sure he is right. One of the risks that we have seen time and again in the middle east and north Africa region is that instability and violence invite in even less desirable elements—if that is possible to imagine—who want to destabilise further the situation in their own interests.

I am happy to pay tribute to the British Government for being fully aware of the issues. In January, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for International Development visited projects funded by the Department for International Development in Sudan, some of which address basic human rights. I gather that the water programme supported by DFID—this was probably the case under the previous Government, too—has now helped to provide access to clean drinking water for 800,000 people. I say to those who question whether it is right to spend 0.7% of our national income on international development that it is difficult to imagine money being spent more cost-effectively to provide such a huge number of people with such a basic thing as clean drinking water.

Another of the DFID projects that my hon. Friend visited promotes access to justice. This debate needs to address human rights and the rule of law, and many hon. Members have done so.

The Government’s most recent “Human Rights and Democracy” report discusses, as it has done for many years, Sudan, where human rights and democracy are, if anything, deteriorating. Political parties do exist, but there are frequent instances of harassment and imprisonment. Elections have taken place, but they are deeply flawed. Human rights defenders are detained and torture takes place. Other hon. Members have discussed instances of war crimes and the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) talked about the persecution of Christians. Above all, there is continuing violence in Darfur, where hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced. It is sometimes difficult to escape the conclusion that the Bashir Government are almost using violence and interference in the oil supply for their own political ends in destabilising things and preventing democratic progress.

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As the hon. Member for City of Chester (Stephen Mosley) has said, the most recent report states that an Ethiopian peacekeeper who was part of the United Nations peacekeeping force was killed and others injured in a shelling incident. It is an even more worrying development if UN troops are not safe from artillery fire. The situation is deteriorating and I would be interested to hear the Minister say what has happened as a result of that incident.

The hon. Member for Foyle slightly criticised the United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur and the United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei. Although they may not be doing a perfect job, we have to acknowledge the courage of the UN peacekeepers and the difficult situation in which they have been placed.

It is difficult for us to influence the Government of Sudan directly, but there are countries with whom they are friendly. China plays a significant role and has traditionally been identified as a friend and economic partner of Sudan. What pressure could we put on China? It would be difficult to ask the Chinese to address human rights issues in Sudan when they are no angels themselves in that respect, but they could at the very least stress the economic importance of maintaining the oil flows and the need to achieve stability in order to allow prosperity to develop. I would have thought that the Chinese would see the benefit in doing that. Will the Minister address the possibility of discussions with China about the situation in north Sudan?

I think that many of us shared in the good will towards South Sudan on its independence. It is very sad to see its security forces also implicated in rape, torture and extrajudicial killing. The Government of South Sudan face a difficult situation, particularly given the crisis in oil revenues. If we think that we have difficulties with cuts, we should consider the idea of losing half our GDP. That would cause a complete financial crisis that any Government would struggle to cope with, let alone one in such a fragile and developing situation. The Government of South Sudan also face multiple instances of violent instability across the country. The hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire (Pauline Latham) spoke well about the additional problem of forced displacements from the north.

We must try to understand the almost unimaginable problems faced by the Government of South Sudan. At the same time, they must receive the message loud and clear from the British Government that the good will that they had on independence will evaporate quite quickly if they do not try to address the human rights issues. If the abuses continue and if a culture of impunity is allowed to develop in South Sudan, as it clearly did in the north, that will be a worrying development.

It is to the credit of the South Sudanese Government that the terrible abuses in Jonglei state were followed by the arrest and charging of members of the state security forces who were involved. I would be interested to hear the latest news on that, but I have not heard of any prosecutions. It involved only a small number of people, so it would be good to hear whether progress is being made. However, there are also cases such as that of Deng Athuai Mawiir—excuse my pronunciation—the anti-corruption activist who was arrested. There is also the continuation of the death penalty. Even if we count only the official executions, there have been eight since independence.

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Other Members have talked about the position of women. The south does have quite a good record. Some 26% of National Legislative Assembly seats are held by women and 12% of heads of Ministries, Departments and agencies are women. However, the overall position of women is not good and violence against women is widespread. It is part of the Government’s strategy to counter that.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s stated priorities are to support UN peacekeeping, to support the African Union high-level implementation panel, to give financial and technical support to UN agencies and others, and to support capacity building in institutions in the south. Those seem to be exactly the right priorities. That is the right strategy in an intensely difficult situation. The only thing that we can ask in this Chamber and in this debate is that, if it is humanly possible, we raise our game even further and encourage our international partners to do likewise. If we can do that, we might thereby offer a positive message and hope to the people of this pretty unhappy region.

6.17 pm

Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP): May I, too, preface my remarks by congratulating the hon. Members for Foyle (Mark Durkan) and for City of Chester (Stephen Mosley) on the way in which they introduced the debate? Their contributions were powerful and set out clearly the gravity of the situation and the seriousness of the problems.

It is right to celebrate the fact that South Sudan is the youngest country in the world, but it has had a troubled birth. There is an imperative on us, as a nation that cares, to demonstrate that we care through how we address the situation. This House is slowly but surely being sucked into a debate about and probably an action in another part of the world—Syria. I believe that this Government and this Parliament ought to have, if not more, then certainly equal concern about South Sudan and Sudan.

Since 2010-11, there has been utter silence about the situation in Sudan. That is a worrying trend, because the level of fighting has continued to rise and the humanitarian situation is again deteriorating. That conflict is being waged, but it is being met by total silence. That silence is a condemnation not of this House, but of the international community, who should be speaking out powerfully about the situation. It is a tribute to this House and to the Backbench Business Committee that this matter is the subject of debate today. This year alone, 300,000 people have been displaced in Sudan—another indictment of what is actually happening. If it were happening anywhere else, including parts of the middle east, it would be a matter for urgent questions and all sorts of other activities. I have some questions for the Minister, who I know will do his best to answer them, and I will reiterate some points that have been briefly touched on by other Members, as it is important to address them.

The Government of Sudan continue indiscriminately to target civilians with aerial bombardments. Such attacks are a clear violation of the UN Security Council’s resolution 1591, dated March 2005, which demands an end to such violence. What is the UN is going to do

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about resolution 1591? Will it insist that action is taken to protect citizens? Hon. Members have mentioned the atrocious attacks on civilians in the village of Jebel Marra, where there are already 500 orphans. The murder of a woman there on 16 June this year meant that two more children have been left without a mother. The Government of Sudan continue to obstruct aid agencies from operating freely within the region, and many of those agencies are struggling to cope with the 1.4 million people living in displaced persons camps with very little amenity—indeed, in many instances, with nothing. New arrivals are arriving practically every day to be faced with the opportunity to live under a tarpaulin shelter and scratch a living from the land.

That has been going on not for months or years but for more than a decade, which again is an indictment. The hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) was right to say that the UN is doing quite a lot—indeed, I think he said it is doing a good job—but if it has been paid $765 million by this Government and country since 2007, we would expect it to do a good job. The United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur budget has cost an estimated $9.3 billion since 2007; one would have expected the problem to have been solved a long time ago. We are looking at a waste of resources, and I ask the Government to conduct an immediate inquiry into that expenditure to try to paint a picture of where the money is going, so that we can understand how it is being spent. For the life of me, I cannot understand how $9 billion has left a country in such an intolerable mess.

Martin Horwood: The hon. Gentleman is making an important point and it is right to question the cost of UN operations. Does he accept, however, that in some of these examples it is more important to try to build capacity and to offer training and support to improve the effectiveness of UN forces, rather than berate them about the amount of money we have agreed to spend on them?

Ian Paisley: I absolutely agree, and believe me, I am not berating. If the hon. Gentleman saw me berating, he would understand what berating actually means. I am simply asking questions, because the amount of money being spent is obscene for the amount of result. That is a fair point that is not that critical of the UN, and I think we have the right to make it.

The Government have a role to support peace, as the motion rightly states. In any country that has emerged from conflict—I speak with some personal experience—when conflict ends, stability starts to take over, and with that flows commercial activity. Capitalism is often accused of being cowardly, but if there is stability, capital and activity will start to flow. The Government must explain how they intend to encourage UK business activity to flow into that country when, as I hope it will, stability slowly but surely starts to make a foundation. What support will they give to British businesses that seek to invest and help develop the structure of that country?

It is also important to ask the Government what security support our nation can give to South Sudan, so that it can protect its people, borders and integrity, and so that we can continue to celebrate the birth of that new nation. What other assistance can our Government give? Can we encourage the UN to give money for the

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protection of the border, so that oil resources can be properly utilised and so that oil can properly flow, to allow the development of infrastructure and expenditure on South Sudan’s people?

I reiterate that the awful activities that in many instances are generated in Sudan against its neighbour are done not in the name of the ordinary people of Sudan, but in the name of a wrong regime. The regime must be challenged, but we must not penalise the ordinary people of Sudan because of it. As the Minister well knows, that is an incredibly difficult balance to achieve, but it is important that we spell out that principle loud and clear.

6.25 pm

Ian Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab): I thank the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) for initiating the debate. He has done a great service in bringing the subject of Sudan and South Sudan to the House two years after it was last discussed in detail. I commend all contributors to the debate. They spoke with passion, eloquence and authority on the dreadful situation that prevails in Sudan.

I pay tribute to the all-party group on Sudan and South Sudan. All-party groups have, sadly, had a bit of a bad press of late, but this debate is a strong and powerful answer to those who criticise them. We have heard the personal testimony of those who have been to Sudan and South Sudan; they have been able to inform the debate with their personal recollections, which makes all hon. Members do our jobs better. So well done to the all-party group and all hon. Members who have contributed to the debate.

The hon. Member for City of Chester (Stephen Mosley) spoke with great insight, authority and passion about the situation on the ground, the difficulties people face, and how the hopes we had when South Sudan separated have unfortunately not been realised. My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz) highlighted an important aspect of the debate, namely that there are UN resolutions in place. The hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) was right to question where the money has gone, because it is important that we hold all institutions to account, including the Government—that is the job of all hon. Members—the UN and those bodies that are established by it. If the job is not being done, it is our obligation to hold those institutions to account, and I am sure the Minister will do so.

The hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire (Pauline Latham) spoke of her personal experience of Sudan as a member of the International Development Committee, and particularly of women’s issues, the refugee camps and the inadequacies of the sanitation systems, which we need to improve. An important part of any new state is governance. The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) spoke of the importance of religious freedom. The suppression of Christianity is not acceptable anywhere, including Sudan. The hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) spoke with his usual eloquence. He brought to the Chamber the experience of colleagues from his office who have worked in Sudan, and of the difficult situation that prevails.

The hon. Member for North Antrim spoke with great authority and presented the dilemma of what an international policy can achieve. The previous Government pursued an international policy, which the coalition Government continued with real commitment. Frankly,

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it is not working. It is now more than 10 years since the Sudanese Government launched military action against armed groups in Darfur, leading to the deaths of more than 300,000 Darfuris and the displacement of 3 million people. We heard from the hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) that the problems in Sudan go back even further than that. The various examples cited in the debate show that the fundamental causes of the conflict remain. One can only feel for the people of Sudan and we must stand with them in sympathy and solidarity. The central fact is this: the appalling crisis that happened before is happening again. I listened to all the contributions to the debate, and I am sure the Minister did too. We need to work collectively to make progress and support the Government in holding international institutions to account.

We heard about the work carried out by NGOs and charitable organisations. They have provided us with examples of the difficulties on the ground and make a profound contribution to the day-to-day lives of individuals who have to live in a very difficult situation. Without their support, that situation would be worse. The security situation in Darfur continues to deteriorate. The Government of Sudan appear to continue to target civilians. Violence, insecurity and civilian displacement have increased since 2010, and rape and sexual violence continues to be used as a weapon of war. UN Security Council resolutions continue to be flouted.

International and media attention focuses on South Kordofan and Blue Nile, where the conflict between the Sudanese Government and Sudan People’s Liberation Army continues. There is a danger that the situation in Blue Nile and South Kordofan will turn into a longstanding conflict like that in Darfur. That must be averted at all costs. Recent figures from the Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs state that, just since January, more than 300,000 people have been displaced by inter-tribal fighting or conflict between armed movements in South Kordofan and Blue Nile. According to figures from the Government’s Humanitarian Aid Commission for government-controlled areas and from the Sudan Relief and Rehabilitation Agency for SPLM-N areas in South Kordofan and Blue Nile, more than 1 million people remain displaced or are severely affected by fighting. There are more displaced people this year so far than there were in the whole of last year. The situation is truly desperate, and addressing the conflict in these two areas is fundamental to finding a lasting peace between Sudan and South Sudan.

I was struck that Sudan was not mentioned once in Foreign Office questions today. That is why we need to thank the hon. Member for Foyle. There are so many other pressing issues at the moment, but the scale and breadth of the challenge in Sudan is profound. We ask the Government to press the UN Security Council to support and protect people across Sudan, particularly in Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile state. The UK must continue to press the Sudanese Government and rebel movements to work towards peace. We cannot allow history to repeat itself. Recently, the UN’s Valerie Amos said:

“We cannot let Darfur slip off the radar of the international community”.

Unfortunately, that appears to have happened. In Blue Nile state—an area held by the Sudan People’s Liberation Army—there have been multiple scorched earth offensives.

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The humanitarian situation for those remaining there is dire, with civilians unable to tend their crops for fear of being bombed and food supplies scarce. The Sudanese Government continue to block humanitarian relief to civilians in rebel-held areas. We must ensure that access is given to UNAMID, humanitarian organisations and NGOs.

We hope that recent signs of co-operation and progress between the Sudanese and South Sudanese Governments continue. If it has been happening, it is probably due to international pressure, including from the UK and US Governments. We need to keep the pressure on. What are the Government doing to engage with the international community and to put pressure on the Sudanese Government and rebels to cease fighting? What recent engagements has the Minister had with international counterparts to help improve the prospects of a solution to the conflict in Sudan? Were Sudan and South Sudan an item for discussion at the G8 summit, and what steps were taken at the summit to address these issues? What discussions has the Minister had with the African Union high-level implementation panel to try to agree a transition to peace in Blue Nile and South Kordofan states? Will he update the House on progress with Qatar on the implementation of the 2011 Doha document for peace in Darfur?

This has been a harrowing debate. We have heard from all Members about the dreadful state of affairs that continues in Sudan and South Sudan. This is an issue on which the House needs to come together and work with the Government and international institutions to try to remedy the international community’s failure in Sudan and South Sudan over the past decade. It is important that we work together, and I am certain that the Minister will do his utmost to take the work forward in the days, weeks and months ahead.

6.38 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mark Simmonds): I begin by congratulating all hon. Members who have participated in this important debate. Their knowledge was exemplified by and built on the visits that people have clearly made to this important and challenging part of Africa. I agree with the hon. Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas) on the importance of the all-party group on Sudan and South Sudan and its significant contribution to highlighting the importance of this issue in the House. He was right to mention that this subject was not raised in Foreign and Commonwealth Office questions this morning, but to be fair to the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan), he certainly managed to raise it in the previous FCO questions, and I have no doubt that he and other hon. Members will do so again.

I also want to congratulate the hon. Member for Foyle not only on securing this debate but on the detailed and passionate way in which he introduced the topic, highlighting the significant problems that exist. He was absolutely right to raise the challenges that exist, particularly the humanitarian crisis. If I have time later, I will say a little more about what we and the Department for International Development are doing about that. I join him and other hon. Members in putting on the record our recognition of the bravery

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and commitment of many non-governmental organisations in the work they do on the ground, albeit without being specific, as they request. He also raised the significant role of UNAMID, which is a joint UN-African Union force. It also needs to be put on record that Robin Gwynn, who is a senior FCO official and the United Kingdom’s special envoy to Sudan, is in Darfur today to discuss exactly how to reinvigorate the peace process and how we can support UNAMID and give it a greater focus.

The hon. Gentleman was also right to highlight the terrible suffering in Blue Nile state and South Kordofan—suffering that is sadly stretching and expanding into North Kordofan—and the importance of trying to ensure that the international community gets humanitarian access into those parts of Sudan when it is safe to do so. I can give the hon. Member for Wrexham an assurance that we are co-operating and discussing with multilateral organisations such as the United Nations and the African Union, as well as through the troika—the United States, Norway and the United Kingdom, which work together closely on these issues—and with other organisations, such as the Arab League, which also has an important role to play.

The hon. Member for Foyle was absolutely right to highlight the current deterioration of the situation in Darfur and the attacks on UNAMID, which have continued. We have also seen tribal clashes over land, which means that this is not a simple matter of the South Sudanese forces attacking those tribal groups. Things are much more complicated than that, but that does not take away from the suffering that is occurring. More than 300,000 people have been displaced this year—more than in the last two years—and 1.4 million internally displaced people are already in camps in Darfur. We are doing what we can to alleviate the human suffering and the humanitarian situation, and we certainly press the Government of Sudan very strongly to honour their commitment under the Doha peace agreement and allow unhindered humanitarian access.

The hon. Gentleman also talked about the risk that aid for Darfur will be used by the Government. I can give him an assurance that UK assistance in Darfur is delivered through UN agencies and NGOs and is carefully targeted specifically to benefit ordinary Darfuris, not Government institutions. Indeed, after the Doha conference there were significant and detailed strategic talks to ensure that all donor assistance is targeted in that way.

My hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester (Stephen Mosley) made an informed and knowledgeable speech. He was absolutely right to say how highly regarded the United Kingdom still is in Sudan and to talk about the significant educational links that exist. He also raised the importance of the humanitarian challenges, quite rightly highlighting the excellent work of the NGOs. If I may build on the sad point he made about the Ethiopian peacekeeper who was killed, we utterly condemn the attack. Indeed, last night I had the sad task of writing to the Ethiopian Foreign Minister to express our condolences at the loss of a young female Ethiopian peacekeeper.

My hon. Friend was also right to highlight the importance of oil to both economies and to acknowledge and congratulate those officials in the Foreign Office and DFID who work tirelessly to alleviate the suffering and do what they can to find lasting solutions to the

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problems that have dogged Sudan and South Sudan for far too many years. I can confirm to him that their focus on DFID, in addition to alleviating humanitarian suffering, is about building accountable, capable and responsive government, public financial management through the anti-corruption commission and supporting civil society.

Jim Shannon: On the issue of accountable management, is the Minister aware of any worker projects relating to land management or agricultural projects, perhaps to enable people to try to feed themselves? Is there a way for that to happen?

Mark Simmonds: I am grateful for that intervention. The Department for International Development does that sort of project, and the hon. Gentleman is right to highlight the importance of putting in place sustainable economic policies to give people a stake in the community and to be able to provide for themselves and their families in a sustainable way. Ultimately, that is the only way we are going to break the cycle of conflict.

Another key point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester was the prevention of humanitarian access in Jonglei. I can give him an assurance that we consistently raise our concerns with the Minister for humanitarian affairs and did so only yesterday. Additional officials in the FCO and DFID Sudan unit are today meeting the South Sudanese foreign affairs ministry to make that point very forcefully again.

We then heard from the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz), who was absolutely right to reiterate and highlight the powerful point about the suffering of refugees. He was right to highlight, too, weak civil governance and food shortages. He made a very important point about the effectiveness of UNAMID. I share his concerns and those of his right hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Mr Clarke) about the performance of UNAMID in respect of its core mandate to protect civilians. I can give him an assurance that the UK is working with the UN and the troop-contributing countries to improve the performance of troops and that we regularly raise with the Government of Sudan the restrictions placed on the mission by the Sudanese authorities, which are completely unacceptable. Officials are in regular touch with Mr Chambas, the new head of UNAMID, about more effective management of the mission.

My hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire (Pauline Latham) was absolutely right to highlight the lack of infrastructure in South Sudan, and the importance of roads for economic development and economic growth. She further emphasised the point that other hon. Members made about the importance of oil revenues and keeping the oil flowing to build up infrastructure and capacity. She also highlighted, with great articulation, the practical problems of flooding, lack of jobs and language difficulties, not to mention the significant economic challenges. We share those concerns about the situation of those of southern origin, who have been required to leave Sudan following the independence of South Sudan. DFID has provided financial support specifically to respond to the humanitarian and resettlement needs of the returnees.

Let me deal now with the important contribution of the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), who focused his remarks on problems with religious freedom and the persecution of Christians. We are very concerned

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about the increase in the number of reports in recent months of intimidation and threats to Christians and to church premises—from other groups and, significantly, from parts of the Sudanese security services—as well as of the deportations of individual Christians of foreign origin. Our officials in Khartoum have, together with the EU, met members of the Sudanese Government to raise our significant concerns. In particular, we have urged them to investigate the attack on Christian individuals and properties. It is also worth emphasising that the UK embassy is providing assistance in a consular capacity to foreign Christians who have been affected by these problems.

Briefly, if I may, I would like to put on record even though I am a Minister in the Foreign Office, some of the very significant and important work being done by the Department for International Development, both in Sudan and South Sudan. The work focuses on responding to the underlying causes of conflict and its impact on the poorest and most vulnerable in Sudan—displaced people, particularly girls and women, the urban poor and the disadvantaged young. DFID will work to tackle the impact of unequal allocation of finance and unequal access to basic services.

Some of the figures are quite extraordinary, so let me quickly trot some of them out. About 800,000 people have been given access to clean drinking water; 20,000 young people have been helped to obtain education and training; 80,000 people have access to financial services; 10,000 sq km of land have been returned to productive use—the hon. Member for Strangford alluded to that—and 250,000 women and girls have improved access to security and justice. The list goes on, and it relates only to northern Sudan. In the southern part, our aid has enabled 2 million children to go through primary school, provided 750,000 people with malaria prevention and treatment, provided food security for 250,000 people, and given 470,000 people access to clean water and sanitation. Significant outcomes have been achieved, thanks to UK taxpayers’ money.

As always, my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) made a very articulate speech. One of the key issues that he rightly raised was the influence that China can have in encouraging better behaviour on the part of the Sudanese Government, and we agree that it can play an important role in encouraging the Governments of Sudan and South Sudan to resolve their problems and build stability. We have regular discussions with China about Sudan in Beijing and at the Security Council in New York, as well as through our respective embassies in the two countries. I welcome China’s clear statement last week that Sudan should not shut down oil production, but should implement all agreements on their merits.

It was, perhaps, fair for the hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) to suggest that there had been “silence” in the House, but I assure him that there has not been silence in Government Departments, in the United Nations, or elsewhere in international multilateral organisations in regard to the significant challenges faced by both countries. He rightly mentioned the importance of business, and I can give him a categorical assurance that DFID is working to improve the business environment in northern Sudan. He may be interested to learn that in the autumn an international investment conference will take place in Juba, in South Sudan, with

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the aim of stimulating inward investment and sustainable job creation in the area. He also rightly referred to the tension and the difficult balance that sometimes exists between the regime in northern Sudan and the wish to support the long-suffering people.

The hon. Gentleman made an important point about the cost-effectiveness of the United Nations missions. I was in New York 20 days ago, discussing that very issue with key UN officials. We have supported a UN review of the military and the civilian elements of the mission over the past year. That has led to some reductions in the size of the mission, intended to improve the focus on its core mandate, and we will continue to work with the relevant UN department to improve the mission’s performance on the ground. The hon. Gentleman spoke of the importance of security support for South Sudan, and I can tell him that we are working with the international community to assist the reform of security services there. The cross-departmental conflict pool is funding a major project to improve the leadership and accountability of the southern Sudanese armed forces.

A major challenge clearly faces the two countries in the context of their bilateral relationships and their relationships with the regional and broader international communities. There is a huge amount of work to be done before Sudan and South Sudan can finally put this regrettable chapter of their history behind them. I urge the two Governments, with the support of the international community, to focus on ensuring that any influence that they have over armed groups in each other’s territories is used to positive rather than negative effect. We must all co-operate, co-ordinate and provide assistance to ensure that the nine-point plan that was detailed at the United Nations General Assembly last September is implemented in full as quickly as possible, to the benefit of people living in both countries.

6.54 pm

Mark Durkan: I thank all Members for their passionate contributions to the debate. Alas, although many important issues were raised, none of what we said did justice to the scale and nature of the problems faced by the people of Sudan and South Sudan, or bore adequate witness to the quality of the work and commitment of so many non-governmental organisations and others.

The issues raised have been addressed by both the Minister and the shadow Minister, and I appreciate the fact that the Minister has responded to Members’ questions, including those passed on to us by others, as we engaged in the subject through the all-party group on Sudan and South Sudan and other channels.

Many useful questions were asked about UNAMID and the United Nations, and an important message was sent about the competence and value of their involvement. We cannot just casually go with yet another international agency, perhaps with a big money spend; we are talking about what is meant to be a serious international intervention in a tragic situation, and it does not seem to be delivering what it should. That may in part be because we have not held it to account or followed through on the financial commitment or on the parliamentary scrutiny to the extent that we have elsewhere. Perhaps we need to shake up our own priorities.

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In my opening remarks, I did not have time to acknowledge last year’s very good report on South Sudan from the International Development Committee, so I am glad that the hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire (Pauline Latham) stressed its importance. She reflected in a poignant and personal way the practical implications for, and experiences of, the people in South Sudan. That report bears more reading and reflection. Perhaps another of the procedural tweaks or adjustments that we need to make is to ensure that when there is a quality report by a Committee, we give it time in the House. Members should not be left to busk a year later at the Backbench Business Committee in order to secure a debate such as this one.

I thank all the Members who contributed today. The hon. Member for City of Chester (Stephen Mosley) helped secure the debate and highlighted a number of points. He praised the thinking behind the South Sudan Health Action and Research Project, or SHARP. There are questions to be asked about that project, but I do not think any of us question the motive behind it. How it translates into practice and its budgetary resource commitment and long-term backing are what is important.

The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) raised points that were addressed by the Minister and the shadow Minister, as did the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz). The hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) rightly cautioned us about the need to ensure that whatever criticisms we make of UNAMID, we do not say or do anything that negates the bravery of those serving in that difficult situation.

The hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) made some very important points, and he was not in “berater” mode. He is certainly never in traitor mode, but the fact that he was not in “berater” mode was a novelty. He asked about UN resolution 1591; I am just glad it was not 1690.

The shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas), rightly highlighted the importance of many issues, and put salient questions to the Minister, which he, in turn, addressed well. I was also grateful for the interventions from the hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart), the right hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Mr Clarke), the hon. Member for Glasgow North East (Mr Bain)—who chairs the all-party group on Sudan and South Sudan—the hon. Member for Workington (Sir Tony Cunningham) and the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz).

A number of Members talked about the position of women and children in both countries. It is a salient statistic that a girl in South Sudan is three times more likely to die in childbirth than to complete primary education. South Sudan has the highest rate of maternal mortality in the world. That is why we need to be thinking about these countries and paying attention to last year’s Select Committee report. We also need to be addressing the question rightly asked by people such as the hon. Member for Wrexham: if Sudan and South Sudan are not being discussed at the G8 but other countries suffering conflict are, what is the difference? We can explain in all sorts of strategic and regional ways what the difference is, but we need to make sure that there is no difference as far as our sincerity, our motive and the level of our humanitarian commitment are concerned.

Question put and agreed to.

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That this House has considered the Government’s role in supporting peace and development in Sudan and South Sudan.