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I turn now to Africa, which many felt needed more attention. I have mentioned already concerns about the Democratic Republic of Congo. We had an
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We are similarly pressing heavily on the diplomatic front. I have been in touch this week again with President Obasanjo, who has made another round of contacts and believes that he has the early beginnings of an agreed framework between President Kabila and Mr Nkunda, but it will need a great deal of political support from us and others to turn it into an agreement. In that regard, the Prime Minister and I met this morning with President Kagame of Rwanda to again press on him the need for his strong support for these activities.
We have also, through DfID, been principal supporters of the continuing humanitarian efforts in the Kivus, which have led to some easing of the situation in the past week or so. But, as I argued here before, it is a precarious gain and the crisis is still very far from resolved.
The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, raised the issue of Somalia, as did others. The situation in Somalia is very bleak and, indeed, the Ethiopians have declared that they will withdraw. We do not know what the implications will be for AMISOM, the African Union force, but the speculation of the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, is not improbable.
At the same time that we face a security gap inside Somalia and a weakening transitional Government, we now have the new problem of piracy offshore. I hope we will have a co-ordinated and effective anti-piracy campaign and an EU force is close to being launched under British command. I can reassure the noble Lord that we are not that concerned about the human rights of the pirates; we are more concerned about a situation where we have to bring them to the UK and they are able to make an asylum claim at the end of their prison sentence. That is the issue we are trying to resolve through agreements to have them tried in the region, in Kenya and neighbouring countries.
I was asked to say a word about the elections in Malawi. I can assure the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, that I am keeping an extremely close eye on the situation. I have met several of the likely candidates in recent months and have spoken to them about the need for the campaign to move forward in an effective way.
There is a need to offer an assurance to those who have raised the issue about our commitment to development more generally. A month ago, the Prime Minister repeated his commitment to overseas development assistance reaching 0.7 per cent of GDP by 2013. That has been echoed by the International Development Secretary and continues to be supported by the Benches opposite. Everyone recognises that it is a value-for-money investment keeping the global economy
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On Sudan and Darfur, I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, that we are trying to ensure the growth of troop levels in Darfur. It is a very disappointing situation at the moment, as the noble Lord saw for himself, with only 13,000 troops deployed. There is a promise of 60 per cent deployment by the first month or so of 2009 and, it is to be hoped, 80 per cent by the summer, but these numbers have been breached before. I can also assure the noble Lord that we have been clear on the ICC that we would not vote for an Article 16 deferral of indictments against President Bashir unless there was a dramaticand at this point unimaginablechange in the political situation inside the country and a climate established in which the impunity ended, those indicted were sent to court and tried and the human rights of the victims in Darfur were addressed. For us, it seems a highly implausible outcome at this stage.
As for Chad, I would be very grateful if the noble Lord, Lord Ashcroft, could give me more details about the camp that has not received WFP rations because we were not aware of that. We have given some £5 million to Chad, as he noted, quite a lot of it through the World Food Programme.
One should never leave Zimbabwe till almost last in this House, as the noble Lord, Lord Blaker, and other noble Lords who raised it would never forgive me. However, they would be sure to be back next week with another Question if I did. While the noble Lord, Lord Owen, offers an enticing prospect of another young Foreign Secretary jetting to southern Africa with his American counterpart to solve the problem, I worry that this is a very different situation. This is not Rhodesia that we are going to free and put on the path of majority rule, but Zimbabwe, whose leaders still insist that we are meddling. It must be others who lead and we must support, but support we will. The humanitarian circumstances that have opened upcholera exported into neighbouring countries, pay riots among the army, 4 million people on food aidare creating a situation where I suspect political change will gather a momentum of its own, way beyond what diplomats from outside can possibly achieve. Nevertheless, it will be our job to support it.
The European Union was mentioned by a number of speakers, including the noble Lord, Lord Brittan, and my noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis. We all enjoyed the observation of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, that it is only when in opposition that parties are against Europe. Therefore, we can only hope that if one day David Cameron were to enter No. 10 Downing Street he would, in some warm, Bonapartian boudoir at the back of the house, say, Tonight, Josephine.
I turn very quickly to several of the questions that were raised on defence. A fuller answer will be provided in writing and by other means by my noble friend Lady Taylor where required. I say to my noble friend Lord Gilbert that we understand the difficulties surrounding the A400M and we are reviewing it with our international partners. It is a commercially sensitive issue, but we are well aware of the difficulties.
As for the airbridge, to which the noble Lord, Lord Astor, referred, we have just moved 8,000 people in a rotation rather successfully, but we are very conscious of the problems. Sixty per cent of flights are on time, despite the difficult flying circumstances and security conditions. We are also trying to improve the lounge and cafeteria arrangements because these troops have worked hard and the last thing that they deserve is a rough homecoming of this kind. We owe them more than that.
On the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Addington, we are trying to make sure that the equipment for Afghanistan is prioritised and focused on in the right way. Much of what my noble friend Lady Taylor said about the £4 billion extra that has been approved for operational priorities reflected that.
Some noble Lords thought that they had heard that cutbacks at St Athan meant that we might be able to afford a few new destroyers. I think not, although certainly something larger than a row-boat. This is a £12 billion project, not £18 billion, but it includes operating costs for a 30-year life. It has not yet been agreed or signed with the commercial partner. Obviously we are looking to make sure that we get value for money, but the sums might be a little more modest than some had hoped.
A number of noble Lords mentioned the capacities of the modern Foreign Office; for example, it was suggested that we are unable to do as much as we were previously in the south Pacific. We hope that we are not stretched overly; we hope that we can serve the region from our reduced number of high commissions and embassies. We sent a Minister to the recent Pacific forum, so we are very engaged in the area. While our bilateral aid has gone down, European aid has gone up significantly.
Behind this lies the need to project the idea of a Foreign Office which is no longer concerned with just traditional diplomacy but which is made up of an extraordinary group of young men and women who more than ever need the language skills and local cultural knowledge to get out of embassies and into the difficult places around the world in which we work, whether it is Helmand or the Kivus in the DRC. We need diplomats who, if anything, are braver and more skilled than their predecessors. For us to be properly resourced to do that is a critical priority. The support of all your Lordships to achieve it is key.
I thank again all noble Lords who have participated in this debate and apologise for taking a little time to sum up, but I can only throw myself on your Lordships mercy: you asked a lot of questions, which is typical of debates here. I always complain to my colleagues in the other House about what an easy time of it they get on foreign affairs compared to the kindly and friendly punishment that your Lordships give us here. That just reflects the commitment of everybody in this House to an effective British foreign, defence and development policy. In that regard, we cannot have enough of these debates.
The Chairman of Committees informed the House that, in accordance with Private Business Standing Order 150A (Suspension of Bills), the Bill had been deposited in the Office of the Clerk of the Parliaments together with the declaration of the agent. The Bill was presented and read a first time. It was then deemed to have been read a second time, reported from the Select Committee and re-committed to an Unopposed Bill Committee.
The Chairman of Committees informed the House that, in accordance with Private Business Standing Order 150A (Suspension of Bills), the Bill had been deposited
4 Dec 2008 : Column 144
The Chairman of Committees informed the House that, in accordance with Private Business Standing Order 150A (Suspension of Bills), the Bill had been deposited in the Office of the Clerk of the Parliaments together with the declaration of the agent. The Bill was presented and read a first time. It was then deemed to have been read a second time and reported from the Unopposed Bill Committee.
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