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Democratic Republic of Congo

Volume 455: debated on Tuesday 16 January 2007

6. What her assessment is of the prospects for reforming natural resource extraction in Democratic Republic of the Congo. (115406)

Unfortunately, exploitation of natural resources in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has been a driver of conflict when it could and should be a driver for development. Any sustainable solution will involve tackling corruption and ensuring responsible investment, effective and fair taxation and better control over borders and the resources themselves.

Stability and prosperity in the DRC will have a huge impact on not only its 60 million inhabitants but the peace and security of the whole central African region. That is why we supported the election process to the tune of £35 million and why we have increased our bilateral support to £62 million this financial year.

I thank the Minister for that reply. Before its eight-year civil war, Congo was among the world’s top producers of copper, cobalt and industrial diamonds—vast mineral wealth that should now be put to the service of the people of Congo, most of whom live on less than a dollar a day. Will my right hon. Friend work with his counterparts in the European Union to put pressure on the Kabila Government to reform the mining and logging sectors in Congo to ensure transparency in them?

My hon. Friend makes a number of important points. It is important that the DRC has already signed up to the extractive industries transparency initiative and the Kimberley process. We will continue to support the implementation of both those policies, as we will support the Congolese national committee charged with taking forward the implementation of the EITI. We are also seeking to help to promote responsible business behaviour in the private sector, and to improve the livelihoods of the many Congolese small-scale miners engaged in the extractive industries. As far as forestry issues are concerned, we are financing a study and a series of round-table discussions with non-governmental organisations and industry to develop new and innovative models for sustainable forest use in the DRC. We will also contribute to a multi-donor trust fund which provides support for improving governance in the DRC forestry sector.

Is the Minister concerned about the growing influence of the People’s Republic of China in African countries, not least the Democratic Republic of the Congo? The natural resources with which countries such as the DRC are richly endowed are of growing interest to the communist Chinese. Does he feel that that will be helpful to the development of such countries?

The People’s Republic of China is responsible for a huge amount of the world’s manufacturing industry these days and has legitimate reasons for engaging in trade in Africa and other continents. Concern has been expressed, however, about the extent of the influence that follows on from that legitimate trade, and we keep that matter under constant and close review.

Reforming natural resource extraction and other reconstruction measures in the DRC will require good governance and parliamentary scrutiny. Given our Government’s strong support for the recent democratic process, which the Congolese acknowledged to us when we were there and since then, will my right hon. Friend commit the Government to continuing involvement with the democratic process in the DRC, including giving strong support to strengthening the civil institutions and to making it clear that an effective parliamentary scrutiny role must be given to the opposition, who should not be excluded from parliamentary positions or commission chairs? Otherwise, we might find the country slipping back into conflict.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her question. The figures that I gave to the House earlier show that the United Kingdom was the largest single donor in assisting in the monitoring process, and I am grateful for her participation in that process. The United Kingdom was also the largest European supporter of the DRC in the last financial year. It is clear from the constitution that there is no specific role for the opposition in the DRC, but following the election, President Kabila said that he would be willing to provide an opportunity for such a role to be developed. The United Kingdom Government will offer expertise and assistance on the role of the opposition, and the Opposition in the United Kingdom, having long experience of that role, might wish to assist us in that.

I welcome the Minister’s acknowledgement that the DRC has signed the EITI and the Kimberley process. Signing is one thing, however; enforcing is something different. Will he give me an assurance that this Government and the European Union will ensure not only that those initiatives are extended, secured and supported but that any accusations of malpractice or trading in conflict resources by EU or British companies are thoroughly investigated and exposed, so that there can be no opportunity for the country to break down into conflict again or for the warlords to get revenue from conflict resources?

The right hon. Gentleman makes a good point. I alluded to the matter earlier. The DRC has signed up to those initiatives, and it is important that they are now delivered. The United Kingdom Government are engaged in supporting a committee that has been established in the DRC and charged with the responsibility for delivering those initiatives. We need to ensure that we can offer the necessary expertise and support to the Government there to ensure that those policies are carried through.