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Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I am delighted to do so, but I first commend to the House all the work that has been done by the Churches in the region which work with great energy and dedication to bring about peace for the Sudan. The UK continues to play a prominent role in pursuit of peace, especially now that we have a fully operational embassy in Khartoum. We have given new political and financial support to the newly revitalised Inter-Governmental Authority on Development--the peace process which I mentioned earlier which is allowing for a sustained and accelerated negotiation. We continue to press for extensions to a partial ceasefire, first agreed during the late Derek Fatchett's visit to the region, which has brought much relief to the people in southern Sudan. Your Lordships will remember that the previous agreement was reached in January. It will continue until April of this year.
We continue to engage with all sides. The Sudanese Government and Opposition are well aware of our views. On 8th and 9th March our ambassador to Sudan met the SPLA in Nairobi and reiterated our concerns to see the peace talks make progress, in close co-ordination with the head of the secretariat of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development, Mr Daniel Mboya. We are involved in newly resumed EU dialogue with the Government of Sudan, a positive but frank forum which addresses the peace process, human rights and democratisation. All our efforts are going into making sure that both sides understand that the true benefit that will flow to the Sudanese people will be the end of this long war. Your Lordships will be aware that the war has gone on for 16 years and over 1.5 million people have suffered. We want to do everything in our power to bring that suffering to an end.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, has the Minister noted the reports last week of the bombing of aid agency compounds in the south, particularly those belonging to the American NGO, Samaritans First, and the Irish organisation, Concern, in which it was alleged that two people were killed and a dozen injured? Does she not think that if the Sudanese authorities stopped bombing civilians in the south it would be one of the main contributions towards the achievement of a peace settlement? In pursuance of this objective, what additional measures could be taken to deny them the aircraft and spares coming from eastern Europe, sometimes via third countries such as Yemen? Does the Minister think that the international community has
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I can assure the noble Lord that we have been very assiduous in highlighting the difficulties in the region. We have given every encouragement to our international partners to be as assiduous as we are in implementing the arms embargo. We shall not cease to make those efforts. The noble Lord will know how dire is the situation. We have a window of opportunity--it is not a great one--and we need to put all our energies into ensuring that we get something viable for all the people of Sudan.
Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe: My Lords, we welcome very much the contribution from the Bishops' Benches in relation to this matter. There are many persecuted Christians in the Sudan, as there are in other countries. Does my noble friend agree that this is much more the role of the Bishops than is negotiating with the Government without other interested parties on Section 28?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, the reality is that we need energy and commitment from every single sector in order to deliver peace. I warmly welcome the energy put into this issue by the Bishops, as indeed I welcome the energy that they have addressed towards Section 28.
Lord Biffen: My Lords, in the context of the visit to the Sudan undertaken by the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury some while ago, will the Minister underline the value of that visit and indicate whether she would like a further such visit to be undertaken now?
Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, while I warmly welcome what has been said so far, I must return to the point raised by the right reverend Prelate. Schools and hospitals have been bombed. When a spokesman was challenged about the issue, he said that they had intended to bomb the school. As part of our normalisation efforts and discussions, to what degree do we point out specifically to the Sudanese Government how wholly unacceptable such actions are? Have we involved the Ugandan Government because, after all, Uganda is suffering from an enormous influx of refugees as a result of the conditions in Sudan? Have we turned to the international community generally to support normalisation in terms of expecting rational, civilised behaviour from the Sudanese Government?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, perhaps I may deal with the noble Baroness's questions in order. We are aware of the reports about the bombs being dropped. We have raised the matter specifically with the Government of Sudan. At this year's UN Commission on Human Rights, an EU-sponsored consensus resolution on Sudan was agreed. It calls on the Government of Sudan to stop immediately the indiscriminate bombardment of civilians and humanitarian centres--actions which run counter to the fundamental principles of human rights and humanitarian law. Our ambassador made this general point on bombing yesterday to the Sudanese Government and at the time of the bombing of the Holy Cross school in Nuba.
So far as concerns the Ugandan Government, we are aware that they have come to terms with the Sudanese, together with Ethiopia and Eritrea, and we welcome that. It is a difficult issue. As I said earlier, it needs all our efforts. We shall not hesitate to highlight these issues to the Sudanese. It needs the efforts of both north and south because, I regret to say, the honours are equally shared when it comes to unreasonableness.
Lord Moynihan: My Lords, first, does the Minister agree that with regard to humanitarian aid the main problem in the Sudan has been not the amount of aid donated but ensuring that it reaches those most in need? In the light of the deteriorating situation in the Sudan, what initiatives do the Government intend to take to ensure that NGOs are allowed freely to continue their humanitarian work? As the House will be aware, some 11 foreign aid agencies were forced to suspend their operations and pull out their staff from southern Sudan on 1st March this year after refusing to accept a rebel ultimatum. Secondly, what action do the Government intend to take to build on the important agreements reached last year between the Government of the Sudan, the SPLA and the UN to secure access to certain roads and rail corridors used by aid agencies?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I share the concerns outlined by the noble Lord. We have strongly expressed our concern in relation to the memorandum of understanding which the SPLA sought to make a number of agencies sign--the noble Lord will know that at least 11 of the major agencies refused to sign--and we have given every support to those who have condemned that as a retrogressive step. The difficulties inherent in this situation have been manifest not only in this interchange but in all our dealings with both sides. We shall continue to urge them with great vigour that the Sudanese people need peace and that failing to take advantage of the humanitarian agencies which are willing to commit themselves to the region is a retrogressive step. We shall continue to press the SPLA to address this issue.
Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, I wonder whether the Leader of the House can set my mind at rest about a matter which seems to me to reflect directly on the right of the House to regulate its own affairs. I caught the end of a news story this morning which seemed to indicate that the matter of a register of interests would be referred for investigation by the noble Lord, Lord Neill, and his committee on standards in public life. I also understand that this matter is the subject of a Written Answer today which I have not had the privilege of seeing. Can the Leader of the House reaffirm that whether a reference is made is a matter for a decision by the whole House? As I remember it, the agreement was that before that reference is made the matter should be referred to the Procedure Committee?
Perhaps I may ask the noble Baroness, first, whether she believes that it is appropriate to refer to the matter by means of an announcement to the press. If it was not an announcement to the press, how did the matter come to be leaked? Secondly, does she believe that it was appropriate for the matter to be referred to by means of a Written Answer? Thirdly, has the matter been discussed at all by the Procedure Committee? Fourthly, does the noble Baroness intend to refer the matter to the Procedure Committee and then to refer any report that may result from its discussion to a decision of your Lordships' House before it is referred to the Committee on Standards in Public Life? I am sure that noble Lords will agree that the decision on how your Lordships' affairs should be addressed must rest unequivocally with your Lordships and with no one else.
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