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House of Lords

Monday, 5th June 2000.

Reassembling after the Spring Bank Holiday Recess, the House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Guildford.

Lord Coe

Sebastian Newbold Coe, Esquire, OBE, having been created Baron Coe, of Ranmore in the County of Surrey, for life--Was, in his robes, introduced between the Lord Strathclyde and the Lord Parkinson.


2.36 p.m.

Baroness Cox asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is their response to the continuing conflict in Sudan, with particular reference to reports of military offensives against civilians in the Nuba Mountains.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): My Lords, the policy of Her Majesty's Government remains clearly focused on achieving a peace settlement that will benefit all Sudanese and allow them to rebuild their lives. We continue to urge all sides in the conflict to pursue a negotiated agreement and to refrain from military offensives. We have, therefore, called on the Sudan People's Liberation Movement to return to the IGAD peace talks, as we have made clear to the Government of Sudan, both bilaterally and through the EU, that we look to them to abstain from the aerial bombing of civilian targets, including in the Nuba Mountains.

Baroness Cox: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply, which I find a little disturbing. Is the noble Baroness aware that the National Islamic Front regime has broken the cease-fire agreements and carried out systematically scorched-earth policies and massive military operations against civilians in the Nuba Mountains and nearby oilfields, including the deliberate targeting of hospitals, feeding centres and schools? A Catholic school was hit and 14 children were killed and many others maimed by shrapnel wounds. Can the noble Baroness assure the House that the Government's policy to urge the National Islamic Front to engage in dialogue is not allowing that regime to buy time and gain spurious credibility while it continues its self-avowed policy of jihad and genocide against its own people, Muslims and Animists as well as Christians?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, we are aware of reports of aerial bombings in the Nuba Mountains

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and elsewhere in southern Sudan. We are also aware of other reports of human rights abuses in the south of the country. It has been as a result of a policy of engagement in dialogue that we have been able to press our concerns about these issues with the Government of Sudan and make clear where we expect to see change. We have done this bilaterally and through the EU as a result of the re-establishment of the EU-Sudan dialogue, which has human rights issues at its core. In all our contacts we have made clear that we seek action, not just words. We have seen some progress on issues that we have taken up, and we continue to believe that a critical dialogue is the best way to help further change come about.

Lord Archer of Sandwell: My Lords, can the Minister tell us the relevant distinction between the deliberate bombing of schools and the displacement of whole civilian populations and destruction of their food supplies in southern Sudan, and the situation in Burma where, very commendably, the Government have denounced what is happening and have co-operated with our EU partners to discourage investment and to control the export of repressive equipment?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, as regards the critical engagement in Sudan, we have the ability to work with the Sudanese, who have expressed a willingness to participate in the process for change. Noble Lords will know that in Burma, regrettably, that is not the position. There is little light. We are left with no other choice but that of non-critical engagement. The position is, thankfully, slightly different with Sudan, although I do not seek by any means to suggest that there are not real difficulties to face.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, what attempts have been made by the European Union missions in Khartoum to visit the area where those atrocities have occurred; and with what result? What applications have been made by British firms for ECGD cover to help develop the oilfields in the Upper West Nile? Do the Government consider that the additional revenue from those oilfields--it is estimated that it amounts to as much as 500 million dollars per annum--will simply help to fuel the war?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, of course we are pressing the Sudanese as regards the oil. We want to have transparency. Sudan is a very poor country at present. The oil could be of benefit to ease that burden. However, it is important that the oil is put to good effect. That is a matter on which we shall continue to press for greater clarity.

I do not have direct answers in relation to the opportunities to examine on the ground. I undertake to write to the noble Lord on that subject.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, I am sure the Minister accepts that this is a timely moment for my noble friend Lady Cox to raise the issue of the longest running war in Africa--a continent at present bubbling over, tragically, with wars. Does the noble Baroness recognise that there may now be a chink of light?

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The Khartoum regime is particularly nasty; its Christian persecution is revolting. However, it is now quarrelling among itself. Mr Tourabi has been dismissed, although he has not accepted his dismissal. Mr Bashir may be a little more amenable to outside pressures than in the past. Should not we use our best offices in the way the noble Baroness described, but also mobilise some moderate Muslim opinion--for instance, from Egypt and one or two other countries--in order to achieve a change of mood in Khartoum, an end to persecution, and the end of this ghastly and hideous battle, which has claimed over 1 million lives in 20 years?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I respectfully agree with the noble Lord. We are trying to do that. The noble Lord may know that the Libyans and the Egyptians have started their own initiative. They have indicated that they will work with us to ensure that the IGAD process is given all the support it can be given. We are also garnering support from the USA, the Canadians and others who have their own initiatives in place in order to ensure a united focus for the peace process, and that we give as much support as we can.

The noble Lord is right to say that we have a chink of light. We have to work at it, support it and make sure that it has an opportunity to come to fruition. It has taken 16 long years. The noble Lord will know that over 1.5 million people have died in this conflict. We must seek to do all we can to give this peace process the best chance of success.

The Lord Bishop of Bradford : My Lords, is the Minister aware that during the past month there appears to have been an increase in eyewitness accounts of bombing and shooting and that one of the interpretations being placed by people living in Sudan is that that reflects a division within the government between the supporters of President Bashir and Dr Hassan al-Tourabi? Do the Government have information about the truth of that?

Furthermore, following the Easter visit to Sudan of the right reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury for the enthronement of the new Archbishop, do the Government have a view about how Churches and aid organisations can bring increased pressure on the government of Sudan to bring an end to their indiscriminate and wholly disgraceful behaviour?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, the right reverend Prelate is right in saying that there is conflict between the various factions in Sudan. That is one of the difficulties which we face. Moreover, I warmly welcome the visit of the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, who has had direct conversations about the issue. Others have not had such an advantage and we saw it as being of great benefit. We would encourage the continuation of such initiatives because all those efforts are supportive in terms of trying to garner the most effective support for peace.

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World Education Forum, Dakar

2.51 p.m.

Baroness Whitaker asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the outcome on education of the World Education Forum in Dakar is satisfactory.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, we welcome the progress achieved at Dakar. The forum resulted in a strong political commitment to education for all by governments of developing and donor countries, the United Nations and international financial institutions. Commitments were made to the development of national action plans and there was agreement on the need for significantly enhanced investment by governments and donors in primary education. We will do all in our power to help drive this commitment forward.

Baroness Whitaker: My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for that encouraging Answer. Given that some of the countries most in need of primary education can least afford it and that our consensus was that they ought to be supported, can he say what the Government will be doing to drive forward the strategy and to mobilise the resources for support?

Perhaps I may trespass on his patience and ask a further question. Does he agree that it would be a great boost to the objective of primary education for all by 2015 for the Prime Minister to put the subject on the agenda for the G8 summit at Okinawa in July?

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