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Westminster Hall

Volume 458: debated on Thursday 22 March 2007

Westminster Hall

Thursday 22 March 2007

[Mr. Eric Illsley in the Chair]

Peacebuilding and Post-Conflict Reconstruction

[Relevant documents: Sixth Report from the International Development Committee, Session 2005-06, HC 923, and the Government response thereto, First Special Report, Session 2006-07, HC 172.]

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned—[Liz Blackman.]

I am pleased to have the opportunity to debate this report. By definition, conflict is a difficult and huge subject that has many interweaving strands. Although I hope that our report was constructive and useful, it does not and could not cover every aspect of how to prevent conflict and how to rebuild after it.

We felt it important to carry out such a report, because we were only too aware of the devastating effect of conflict and of how it is incompatible with aid and development that one conflict can wipe out the effect of the world’s entire aid budget for a year. The people who are most affected by any conflict are the most vulnerable, especially women and children, who suffer the greatest poverty and hardship. Countries affected by conflict have the lowest prospect of achieving the millennium development goals, because the capacity to deliver services is simply destroyed.

The other problem is that conflict affects neighbouring states. It does so either by spreading the conflict into them or because people in neighbouring states use it as an opportunity to take advantage of a vulnerable, failed or conflict-prone state. Given those facts, we took the view that it is essential that the Development for International Development has a strategy for dealing with conflict states. The strategy for Africa and for poverty reduction will simply not be achieved unless, in co-operation with other donors and agencies, we can deal with conflicts as they arise. That is particularly borne out by evidence that about half the states that have had conflict fall back into it within a few years of a peace being settled. I suspect that we shall hear examples of those during the debate.

No one on the Committee believes that there are simple, off-the-shelf solutions, and we accept that a number of different factors come into play. I welcome the Department’s publication last week of “Preventing Violent Conflict”, which gives practical examples of where the Department has promoted initiatives that it hopes will reduce conflict—in some cases, the Department can provide evidence that such initiatives have made a contribution to doing so. The Committee also appreciated the work of the cross-departmental conflict prevention pools and the post-conflict reconstruction unit. As our report said, these would be much more helpful if the Department of Trade and Industry were involved, and I intend to return to that point later.

The Committee held some interesting sittings at the outset about the causes of conflict. They were somewhat theoretical and academic discussions about the role of greed and grievance, and the regional dimensions to conflict that I have mentioned. In a sense, we were trying to establish whether general principles can be developed to deal with conflicts. We were resistant to the idea, which some academics advance, of a nice, simple analysis that defines things. By definition, the seeds and courses of every conflict are different, although there are some common factors.

We could not possibly undertake a definitive review of all of the recent conflicts in the world, so we did not attempt to do so. For example, we did not examine the conflict in Sri Lanka, which appears to have the capacity to continue indefinitely. It would be unhelpful if I were to comment on what the answers should be in that country. I simply put it on the record that we recognise that there are conflict situations that we did not examine and thus cannot comment upon usefully.

Given the importance of Africa to the Government’s development strategy and the degree of conflict that there has been in that continent, the Committee visited three specific African conflict zones—northern Uganda, Sierra Leone and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, although I am not sure whether that is an appropriate name for it. The Committee split into two for the first two visits. The right hon. Member for Leeds, West (John Battle) led the group to Sierra Leone, while I went to Uganda and the DRC. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will catch your eye later, Mr. Illsley, because he will have more to say about what he found and learned from the Committee’s visit to Sierra Leone. I am sure that he will observe that while peace has been re-established, the factors that could lead to the re-emergence of conflict are still in place, but I shall leave him to elaborate on that.

In northern Uganda, we saw at first hand the consequences of 20 years of the sinister and bloody activities of the Lord’s Resistance Army, which has terrorised people by attacking villages, abducting children and brutalising them as soldiers, and raping and enslaving girls as well as turning many of them into soldiers. Although we would not blame the Government of Uganda for causing that conflict, we found underlying concern that there is a clear division between the Government supporters and the Acholi people, from whom President Museveni’s predecessor, Milton Obote, drew his support—those people tend to vote for the opposition. There is a mutual suspicion between the Government and the Acholi people in the north in respect of who is to blame and what could, and could not, be done about the situation. There were situations where the Government said that people were free to return to the land, but the people said, “Yes, but we have been told that we will be shot should we try to do so. We are not sure whether Government forces are there to protect or contain us.”

People have fled in fear from their land into grossly overcrowded camps, whose facilities are poor. For too long, the Ugandan Government appeared content to allow the situation to rest, sometimes claiming that the insurgency was almost crushed and at other times saying that they were going to promote peace negotiations. Last year, there were the beginnings of what looked like a serious attempt at peace negotiations, but they seem to have run into the sand. One hears slightly disturbing reports that the LRA are recruiting again in the bush, and I would be grateful if the Secretary of State were to share any up-to-date information on that front.

I made a second visit, courtesy of Oxfam, six months after the first trip towards the end of last year, when I saw that something encouraging had taken place in the interval. The area of land under cultivation reaching out from the camps had substantially extended from being 1 to 1.5 km outside the camps to being 8 to 9 km distant. There were also outreach camps, which had a huge impact on the amount of land under cultivation and helped to diversify the access to food supplies and the restocking of livestock.

The fact remains that there is still no peace settlement and no signs of one. There were outbreaks of cholera in the camps. Without a peace agreement, the people were too terrified to return to the land. Even if they were to do so, they would clearly need a substantial amount of aid support to restock and to re-establish their livelihood within such areas.

The Committee made specific reference to its concern that last year the international community gave $200 million in aid collectively to that one region of Uganda, yet in stable camps under the watch of Ugandan Government forces, we found little or no education, poor health care provision—where there was such provision, it was provided not by the Ugandan Government, but by international agencies—and virtually no policing. If there was criminal activity in the camps, it was up to the victims to transport the accused to court, which is ridiculous because an impoverished refugee without transport in a camp cannot and would not expect to do that.

It seemed that the Ugandan Government were failing in their obligations to provide services to their own people and had left it to the international community to pick up the pieces. I venture to say that it suited the Ugandan Government not to have that responsibility. It may not be a direct consequence, but there is concern—the Secretary of State will acknowledge that this is the aid dilemma—that the process of providing aid lets the Ugandan Government off the hook. If they had to meet all the costs, they would have much greater motivation to solve the problem. It is a chicken-and-egg situation, and I should be grateful if the Secretary of State would give an update on that.

That situation brings home something that we mention in the report. I hope that it is history now, but the international community, including our Government agencies, have invested too often in people rather than institutions. People as leaders are unpredictable and unreliable, and we may have invested too much in President Museveni and not enough in ensuring that Government institutions function properly in Uganda. I hope that we will put more emphasis on the institutions and the mechanisms.

Uganda is a conflict state, but settling the problem of the Lord’s Resistance Army and having a peaceful Democratic Republic of the Congo at its border would put Uganda back on the road to growth and development in a much more inclusive and unifying way, and it would make Uganda less aid-dependent in the long term. The questions that hang in the air are whether there is the remotest chance of that happening and what our Department can do to help to bring it about.

Our visit to the DRC was different. The Secretary of State tells me that there are problems there as we speak, and perhaps he will give us more information about that. When we visited the DRC, we were overawed by the scale of the devastation that had been wrought by that long conflict, but there was hope that the steps that the United Nations and others were taking to pave the way for elections and perhaps the rebuilding of effective government could move the country on from being unquestionably a failed state. If today’s reports of fighting in Kinshasa are accurate, and if that fighting leads to further breakdown, it would be a worrying setback, but setbacks do not always destroy the momentum for peace, and we must hope that the latter applies.

We were in the DRC during the run-up to the elections, and I was given the honour, with the Foreign Minister of the DRC, of turning the first turf for the Department for International Development’s new offices. Having done that, it was interesting that the questions from journalists attending the event were about which local company had got the contract to build the DFID offices or to supply the fixtures and fittings. No one asked about the benefit to the citizens of the DRC of DFID’s increasing activity in that country. Perhaps that shows how far we must travel for people to understand the engagement in more than the most basic and material terms of immediate cash in their hands.

We were told about the problem of how a local leading politician corrupted DFID’s painstaking work to build up capacity for road building based on locally recruited Congolese specialist surveyors, engineers and so on. The project had to be put on hold, because old-fashioned leadership styles cut across the development agenda. Will the Secretary of State indicate whether that problem has been or is in the process of being resolved so that the infrastructure developments that should have flowed from that do so? I commend what DFID was trying to do to build up that capacity, but it shows how quickly it can be undermined when the tradition is corruption and self-serving, rather than engagement to deliver development results.

The Secretary of State acknowledged that one of our specific successes during the inquiry was the growing engagement of the Department in non-English-speaking countries—Francophone and Portuguese-speaking countries. That brought home to us the need for the Department’s senior personnel in the country to have the same quality of language training that is available to Foreign Office personnel, because those people negotiate with Ministers and their Departments on development, budget support and so on. The Secretary of State acknowledged that that was necessary, and I am grateful to him for having done so.

As we travelled from Kinshasa to eastern Congo, we were as impressed as anyone by the beautiful setting of Lake Kivu, and we had not expected to find something rather like Switzerland in the heart of Africa. Africa is a vast continent with a lot of wonderful scenery, but more surprising was the bustle, trade and business activity on the streets of Bukavu, because we had not expected that from what we had been told was a failed state. That was a clear indication of the country’s resource richness and the way people were enterprisingly privateering and developing their contacts and business. The problem is that those very resources provided the money to sustain the warring factions and to prolong the conflict. It could be argued that Congo did not have a classic civil war; it had privateering on a grand scale by lots of individuals with their private armies, which minerals and other resources helped to fund.

We saw the direct consequences of the appalling suffering that ordinary Congolese people experience from disease, hunger and in particular the systematic and brutal rape of women as an instrument of conflict. We visited the local prison, where conditions were poor and justice appeared to be rough. We went to the Panzi hospital where we were moved and impressed by the wonderful work to support victims of sexual violence. They were victims twice. They were victims because they were brutalised, attacked and sometimes physically destroyed; then they were rejected by their communities for having been raped, and were outcasts. In the hospital they found support—not just medical support but rehabilitation and re-engagement, which was extremely important and useful.

What worried us at the time was that the European Commission’s Humanitarian Office was considering withdrawing support from the hospital on the grounds that the conflict had supposedly ended. I am glad that DFID did not take that view, and tried to argue differently. Will the Secretary of State give an update on what is happening in that context? We would be appalled if such activity did not continue for a considerable time. Although the conflict was officially over, raped women were still coming into the hospital at the rate of 10 or 15 a week. Clearly, the conflict was not over for them.

On that point, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that Security Council resolution 1325 gives Governments the opportunity to see all those aspects—particularly the prime victims, who are women and children—through the prism of a women’s agenda? When trying to recover from conflict and build the peace, it is critical that women become centrally involved—for their health and psychological well-being, in particular.

I completely agree. The hon. Lady will acknowledge that during my time on the Committee, and from the number of visits that I have made, I have become more and more aware of the key role that women must play not only in conflict resolution but in aid and development. I am absolutely convinced that giving women power will unlock many problems in Africa, and I just wish that more men in Africa would begin to understand that it is to their advantage to do so. I shall not discuss some of the mischief that we heard about when we were in Ethiopia—but it was women’s revenge.

There is one point of difference between the Committee and not necessarily the Secretary of State’s Department but the Government. We received evidence—we also saw evidence when we were in the DRC—from Global Witness, ActionAid, Rights and Accountability in Development, a non-governmental organisation, and Thomas Eggenburg of Krall Métal Congo. They clarified for us not only the regional dimensions of the war in the DRC but the extent to which it was sustained—either knowingly or without adequate checks—by companies transacting in minerals that had been procured illegally and often by force. The revenue enables rival groups to supply, pay and equip their forces, and in turn, they pray on the local population for further support. To be honest, I am not satisfied with that area of the Government’s response, which was, otherwise, a good and positive recognition of and update on what they are doing.

The Committee was told in the Government’s response that a number of companies are alleged to support the trade in illegally acquired resources, including some British companies. We discovered that the UN panel that submitted the names and identified the allegations processed them as “resolved”. One would assume that a word such as “resolved” implied that, somehow, the allegations had been dismissed; however, the UN panel—the people who published the names—said that “resolved” should be interpreted as meaning not that it invalidated the panel’s findings but that an agreement had been made that such activities would stop. The implication was that the UN expected responsible Governments—in the case of British companies, the British Government—to investigate the allegations further and to take appropriate action. The Government’s response to our report shows inadequacies. The UK authorities appear to have done little or nothing.

Mr. Ketan Kotecha of Afrimex, one company against which the allegations were made, said that it had not had any contact with the DTI before and had not had any contact since, which is frankly astonishing. He also told us that he was unaware of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development guidelines, which for a small company, may be unsurprising. However, once the allegations were made, one would have expected the DTI to be engaged with the company, but it has not been.

We appreciate Mr. Kotecha’s giving oral and written evidence to the Committee—somewhat naively, because he then tried to redress the balance. However, nobody from Alfred H. Knight International was prepared to do so. It is a reputable British company, against which serious allegations were made, and they were neither investigated nor addressed. The Committee does not have the capacity, inclination or responsibility to investigate those complaints, but we expect that the Government should have.

Given what I have said about the use of the word “resolved”, when the Government say in their reply that the national contact point took “resolved” to be a reason for no further action, when they pray in aid that no NGO came forward with further information, and when they say that the information relating to Alfred H. Knight International involved German companies and was therefore passed to the German Government, it seems to be a washing of hands, an unwillingness to engage and a “not wanting to know”. It is one reason why the DTI should be involved in cross-departmental groupings on conflict resolution.

The DTI needs to understand much more the potential damage to aid and development that British companies can do—consciously or unconsciously, deliberately or because they do not take enough time or enough care. The Committee proposes to take evidence from the DTI on the issue, and I hope that, together, we can get something useful going. The national contact point has done some useful work, but it would be able to do more if the DTI were brought in. Notwithstanding those comments, which were about one point that emerged from the Committee’s investigation, overall we welcome the Department’s focus on conflict issues. It is finding ways to use aid to resolve conflicts and prevent recurrence.

As the second largest donor in the DRC, the Government clearly envisage an opportunity to focus specifically on a conflict zone and find ways of using substantial amounts of aid to help for the future. I had written on my notes that there are risks in that strategy, and clearly, today’s news is an example of one such risk. However, I still argue that they are risks worth taking, because if one can sow seeds of good governance, and lay the foundations of a functioning state, ultimately a whole region will benefit.

The DRC is rich in resources, and the tragedy is that if it were well governed, it could provide its people with peace, security and all the opportunities that they deserve. The people are entitled to look to the international community for help with the reconstruction of infrastructure, skills and capacity, but they must provide leadership. We must reach a point at which grievances are addressed and government is not an instrument for personal corruption and the franchising of public resources.

On Tuesday, the Committee met Sundeep Waslekar of the Strategic Foresight Group, whom we have met on several occasions and is based in Mumbai. He produced research that shows—unsurprisingly—that the rise of extremism and terrorism is sustained in areas where there is a deficit in development, democracy and dignity. It offers a transition in which aid, as a means of conflict resolution, provides support for policies that offset those deficits, restore dignity and democracy and provide the space for real and sustained development.

I wish DFID well. Conflict resolution is a big task, and every conflict is different, but I hope that the Government, in their engagement, will be able to demonstrate that they have found helpful policies. I hope also that at the end of the debate, the Secretary of State will be able to answer some of the specific questions that I have put to him.

I thank the Chair of our Committee, the right hon. Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce), for gathering us around the topic, because I have learned from our inquiry that we must always hold the two issues of conflict and development together and study their interaction. The danger is when we think that conflict can be tackled and development follows; however, they interact all the time. The Government, in the first paragraph of their response, say:

“DFID’s Security and Development Strategy focuses on improving security for the benefit of poor people in developing countries.”

Excellent. They continue:

“We address insecurity, lawlessness and violent conflict because they are among the biggest obstacles to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. We believe reducing poverty and inequality is also good for international security, in terms of reduced levels of threat from international crime and terrorism.”

In an attempt to understand those matters, I add a caveat to that response. We must ensure that human security—a new concept in development—is not confined to a box called “military policing”, which perhaps includes ensuring that staff are protected in secure units, because it is separate from the work of dealing with people and their needs.

I say that because the expression that lies behind our report is “human security”, which is a new concept that has been creeping up in development circles. It first appeared in 1994 in the UN human development report. However, it is an ambivalent concept. I looked up “security” in the dictionary earlier today. The first definition was strange and referred to the ability to make sure that the flintlock on a gun could be worked. That implies that security is about arms and defending, but I want to look at security in a completely different way. I want to see it as the condition of being protected from danger and not exposed to it—as safeguarding a person from danger.

After the reference to protecting someone with a gun, there was another reference, by the poet of all poets, Shakespeare. He said that security was freedom from distrust and fear. I am interested in that concept and in shifting from external security and the state to the security of individuals in communities. If I were to say how we ought to move on from our report and the Government’s response, I would stress that we need to do more work in communities on conflict resolution and peacebuilding, and not rely on the top-down approach of getting the state right. In some ways, I play it almost the opposite way round to the right hon. Gentleman—in one sense, not enough attention to institutions and too much attention to individuals.

We also need to pay detailed attention to the practical work of conflict resolution and peacebuilding in communities as part of development work as a whole. As we all know, violent conflict in the 1990s displaced 20 million people in Africa and killed more than 6 million people. More than half the countries of Africa and 20 per cent. of all their populations were affected by conflict. The Government’s latest and welcome report, “Preventing Violent Conflict”, says:

“By 2010, half of the world’s poorest people could be living in states that are experiencing, or at risk of, violent conflict.”

In other words, we face an ongoing challenge. It is not a case of clearing up a conflict and moving on to development, as we have heard in the case of Kinshasa and elsewhere. We have an ongoing challenge to work at. There is not a cat in hell’s chance of our reaching the great millennium development goals in conditions of conflict.

Paul Collier, a professor at the Centre for the Study of African Economies at Oxford university, published a paper entitled “Development and Conflict”. He gave a lot of evidence to the Committee and his work has been referred to many times. There are two passages from his work that I should like to quote:

“The relationship between civil war and failures in development is strong and goes in both directions: civil war powerfully retards development; and equally, failures in development substantially increase proneness to civil war.”

The action is two-way and does not quickly go away. That is why, to put it crudely, it would be no good if half of DFID’s money, or a large chunk of it, went on providing armed guards for DFID’s staff to go out—I am not suggesting that it does—but we were not attending to the work in communities on long-term conflict resolution. We need to redress the balance. Professor Paul Collier also said:

“Around half of all civil wars are due to post-conflict relapses...This is partly because the countries that have had a conflict have underlying and persistent characteristics such as low income and natural resource dependence that make them prone to conflict, and also because of the legacy of the conflict itself.”

Poverty is part of that relapse, but so are the underlying causes of conflicts. We have to work on both together.

The human development report of 1994 defined “security” as

“safety from such chronic threats as hunger, disease and repression, and…protection from sudden and hurtful disruptions in the patterns of daily life”.

I would add another concept to that. In all our societies, we should try to lift the culture of fear and terrorism from the heads of the people, wherever it exists. Where people live in fear, they turn against their neighbours in violence. That is the theoretical discussion, as it were. The issue is not just about conflict as greed and grievance, but about what we do to lift fear from the hearts and minds of the people, particularly the poorest.

The Government response from 19 December is obviously right. It is state focused, concentrating on conflict-prone and conflict-affected states. DFID employs people who work with non-governmental organisations, victims—including rape victims, whom we saw in the countries we visited—refugees and hospitals. However, it might also be worth investing more resources in the work of peacebuilding, and understanding it as part of development work, alongside the other work of capacity building, the engagement of women, community development, and the provision of water and sanitation, health care and education. Conflict resolution and peacebuilding should be part of the whole package.

I refer hon. Members and DFID to a report that I have found quite illuminating entitled “Peacebuilding”, which is a manual published by Caritas Internationalis. It is a workbook aimed mainly at NGO workers engaged in reconciliation in local communities. The NGO world has started to move into the field, as part of its understanding of the need to get to the roots of the problems that people face. The report also reminds us that people have been studying the concepts of peacebuilding, conflict resolution and reconciliation, and practising those skills for years in many, many societies. We need to catch up, both in DFID and in our thinking towards the policy.

When a conflict ends, children have particular needs. As well as needing food, water, shelter and security, they also need healing—often physically, but they are sometimes psychologically wounded, too—and a return to family and community and a resumption of their schooling. The work of conflict resolution and peacebuilding is a long-term project of building peaceful, stable communities and societies.

In that sense, peacebuilding, conflict resolution and development are now intimately interlinked and should be so in the budgets and staff work of DFID, the NGOs and other donors. The UN has set up its Peacebuilding Commission, which operates at the level of Governments. I hope that it will also be encouraged to involve local civil society, so that it is not seen as taking just a top-down approach, but builds on the experience in local communities and pools best practice. I should like to finish this point with another reminder from Paul Collier. He has pointed out that the average cost of a civil war is $54 billion. That wipes out not only DFID’s budget of £6 billion a year, but almost the whole of the aid budget from the entire donor community. One conflict can wipe out all that effort, so it is worth our investing in getting at the roots of a conflict, tackling them and working from the ground up. In other words, prevention is the key.

Our Chairman asked me to say a few words about Sierra Leone, because some of us visited it on behalf of the Committee in February. Three years had passed since the end of the conflict. We found the country relatively peaceful, although 500,000 farming families had been displaced. The production of the staple rice crop had fallen to about 20 per cent. of pre-war levels. The impact of that on poverty and rebuilding speaks for itself in pure economic terms. We met not only officials from the Government in Sierra Leone and development workers, but community leaders in Koidu. Their emphasis was on good governance, accountability, decentralisation and becoming engaged in supporting people locally. As well as asking about the classic development issues of schooling and health care, those community leaders wanted to know what supportive measures could be implemented in their communities for long-term development. To reinforce what my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock) said, the heartbeat of community development—not only in Africa, but everywhere—is usually women, who build up communities. They are asking, “Where is the support and investment that we need to do the work on the ground?”

In Freetown, I stepped out for a while and sat on a wall with some lads who had come in from the rural areas, as many do after conflicts. They had been invited to bring in their guns. We often say, “Get the lads to hand over their guns and we’ll give them $5 for them.” As we all know, these occasions are a bit of a scam, because people get others to collect a few guns for them and then go back for a few more, while someone else will run guns over the border. In that way, everyone makes a bit of money just handing in guns. We talked about that as a strategy for getting rid of guns, because it was a bit rudimentary and certainly not the best strategy.

What did those young men say to me? There is a line about that in our report, but it is one that I am not sure we have got right. We suggest:

“It seems clear that donors in Sierra Leone now need to give priority to employment-generation initiatives, including agricultural schemes, to provide an incentive for rural-urban migrants to return to rural areas.”

In other words, those lads had come to the town to give in their guns and were hanging around, and my impression from chatting to them was that they did not have work. They wanted to know where they would get money if they were not handing in guns and where they would work. I did not get too many signals that they were going to return home to their villages, because they were getting a taste of town life. Given that the dynamic in the world is for the population of towns to increase—everyone is drifting to the towns—we must look at the urban provision of employment for young men.

If we are to decrease the possibilities of further conflict in Sierra Leone, it is important that we look not only at agriculture, but at employment strategies, including investment in jobs and training for people in Freetown, and I would welcome the Secretary of State’s comments on that. I say that because we do not have a clear answer. In the past, the Committee has pushed DFID to do more on agriculture, and my right hon. Friend might well turn to me and say, “Now you’re telling me to concentrate on employment in the towns and cities.” What we do know, however, is that most people will live in cities in the future, and that is where the tensions are.

This problem is not limited to Africa, and I am tempted to say that such tensions and conflicts exist in our own inner cities. This is not a one-way street, with us telling people in Africa how to sort out their conflicts, because there are conflicts in our own neighbourhoods. We would do well to compare notes and have rather more of a north-south, south-north conversation about how to address the tensions, strains and stresses of dealing with conflict internationally and locally. Obviously, that also relates to guns and violence.

A paragraph on page 13 of the Government’s response refers to small arms. The Committee’s recommendations refer to the fact that

“Weapons stocks frequently end up in the hands of someone other than the original purchaser”—

a reference to Somalia at that time. The Government’s response states:

“Better regulation of the arms trade is essential to stop the spread of weapons which aggravate violent conflict, facilitate terrorism and human rights abuses, and undermine development”,

and we would all agree with that. The Government continue:

“That is why the UK is pushing for an international Arms Trade Treaty which is legally binding, covers all conventional weapons, and includes monitoring and enforcement mechanisms …In parallel with this, under the scope of the UN Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects (UNPoA), complimentary work has continued since 2003 on the UK led Transfer Controls Initiative to develop common guidelines”.

I would welcome it if the Secretary of State could say a little more about that.

I said that handing in guns was not all that successful, although it was successful in one way, because more were handed in than were not. However, 650 million small arms are in circulation in the world, and those numbers are fed by a trade in arms, including small arms, that is worth more than $4 billion a year. Selling guns to people is therefore really big business. I am worried that young men who stand round without work will start fighting and that it will not be too hard for them to pick up a gun. They will then start shooting each other, form a few gangs and, before long, we will be back with a failed state and a conflict situation. It is therefore important that we work to remove small arms.

That takes us back to the Chairman’s remarks about the tie-up with the Department of Trade and Industry. The Quadripartite Committee is an important Committee, which links DFID, the Ministry of Defence, the DTI and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, but I am not sure that we are making enough progress on it. We should do more to get small arms out of the system, and that should be seen as part of the work of development—not as a sideshow as we try simply to reduce the arms industry. Small arms are intrinsic to fostering future conflicts—they are one of the primary causes or catalysts that enable them to happen. Although DFID does indeed employ conflict advisers and spends money on their work and on security staff, which is to be welcomed, it could do more to spell that out.

Paragraph 45 of DFID’s latest report, “Preventing Violent Conflict”, states:

“While it is right to give long-term commitments to governments in post-conflict situations, ensuring the mechanisms DFID uses to deliver development assistance are appropriate is vital. We will deliver assistance in a wide variety of ways and evaluate impact regularly, rather than applying a standard model”.

That statement is most welcome, particularly if it means that the Government will take a rather more proactive approach to conflict resolution and peacekeeping and see them as intrinsic to development work. That would mean that we had moved on a notch from the situation that existed when the Committee published its report. As the Chairman said, the report does not cover all conflicts in the world, but it insists that we must take the two challenges of development and conflict together. If we can find new ways of addressing them together, we might make some progress, and the world might be a slightly calmer and—dare I say?—less fearful and safer place.

It is a delight to follow the right hon. Member for Leeds, West (John Battle), who has covered a number of the issues on which I hope to expand—particularly the availability of small arms. As someone who has attended the Quadripartite Committee for several years, I know that we should follow up some of the information that has been given, and I shall raise some of those points later.

I am sad to say that when the International Development Committee decided to deal with conflict and development, there was no shortage of countries that we could have visited. In the end, we visited the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda and Sierra Leone, but we could equally have gone to Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan. Recently, we have also been to Palestine and the occupied territories. Aid, development and post-conflict reconstruction are all linked in those countries. In each of them, there are always problems with food security, water, sanitation, health care and education, and all those are exacerbated by fear and involvement in conflict.

I was as pleased as anyone to see the Secretary of State’s assertion in last year’s Department for International Development White Paper that anyone who cares about development must also care about conflict resolution. In its report, the Committee stated that that link between conflict and development is a relatively new issue in development policy, but it is one of the most important. The Secretary of State will be well aware that new aid commitments could be all but wiped out by an increase in conflict in developing countries. Security is an absolutely basic precondition for development, which is why the Committee’s report, the Government response and today’s debate are so important.

The cost of conflict is measured in human suffering and financial terms, but it is sometimes difficult to put a figure on the costs. It is not always easy to count the bodies, and it is also hard to count the disabled, the amputees and the injured. It is more difficult to count the cost of the impact of war on traumatised children who have witnessed atrocities or have been forced to become child soldiers. That can involve killing or witnessing the deaths of others, sometimes including their own families.

Tens of thousands of child soldiers—girls and boys—were used in the armed forces of more than 60 countries between 200l and 2004, with at least 30,000 of those children fighting in the DRC, 20,000 fighting in Uganda and 17,000 fighting in Colombia. Girls fight as well as boys—as I have said, there are an estimated 12,000 girl soldiers in the DRC. Their future development, whether in health, education or elsewhere, is a key challenge for development policy. My hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Lynne Featherstone) will concentrate on a number of those issues when she sums up. It is impossible to measure the long-term emotional cost of having lived through war or genocide and the economic cost of missed opportunities which might have been taken had those conflicts not taken place.

The financial costs are difficult to define. We heard in a Select Committee evidence session that the average cost of a conflict could be in the region of $50 billion. As I have said, those costs are not only financial. Last week, one of my constituents asked me what the cost of the war in Iraq had been. Those figures make grim reading: approximately £5 billion has been spent on the UK invasion and occupation and 34,000—possibly more—civilians have died since the war began. That is only one of the affected states.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce) has mentioned, we had an interesting discussion with Sundeep Waslekar, the president of the Strategic Foresight Group, in the Select Committee earlier this week. He outlined various countries with track records as breeding grounds for terrorists, or other groups that might be inclined to violence or conflict. Whether we were talking about Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka or elsewhere, one common thread ran through our discussions—conflict and poverty are inextricably linked.

Even in Saudi Arabia—a relatively rich country—where there were injustices and relatively poorer and disfranchised communities, the risk of violence increased. It is sometimes easier to focus on terrorists and their actions than on the deeper causes that build up to individual actions or full-blown wars. Far more people are killed every year in developing countries by AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis and diarrhoea than by terrorism. Yet the military response to events cannot be separated from the work required to get a country back on its feet. Today, we are involved in military action in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, and at the same time, there is widespread acceptance that the redevelopment of those countries is vital if they are to return to peace. Today is not the time to go into the reasons for that involvement, but the link is clear, and hopefully the Secretary of State will update us on progress on the reconstruction of those countries.

In 2000, more than half the countries in Africa and 20 per cent. of its population were affected by conflict. As the right hon. Member for Leeds, West has mentioned, more than 6 million people died and 20 million were displaced as a result of conflict in the 1990s. The scale of the devastation in countries such as Sudan, the DRC and Somalia is hard to imagine. The word “displaced” does not do justice to the suffering of those who have survived and ended up in refugee camps or hiding from their attackers—to end every day by hiding in a forest is no way to live.

Given the importance of conflict resolution, halting the flow of arms to conflict-affected countries is a vital precondition for development. In recent years, concerns about the dangers posed by weapons of mass destruction have distracted us from an even greater threat to humanity, the trade in conventional arms. I have seen for myself, the devastating effect of arms trading in conflict zones across the world. Far too often, guns are pouring into countries which are already suffering from conflict or which are close to civil war. The real weapons of mass destruction are Kalashnikovs—AK47s.

No one here would dispute the fact that small arms frequently end up in the hands of someone other than the intended recipient. All too often, they find their way into conflict zones. Getting to grips with that problem is of vital importance and requires action on a national and global level. Strong common standards for the global trade in conventional weapons must be an international priority. In that respect, it is crucially important that we progress towards an international arms control treaty, which must be a central part of conflict prevention. I was pleased to see a UN vote in favour of the recent UK-led resolution on that matter, and I congratulate the Secretary of State on his part in that. However, keeping up momentum will be key, given the lack of enthusiasm in some quarters. I look forward to an update from him.

Although I commend the Secretary of State for his work on securing an international agreement on the arms trade, much work needs to be done in this country to ensure that we are part of the solution and not part of the problem. The fact remains that, rightly or wrongly, the UK is one of world’s leading arms exporters. As such, it is crucial that we conduct our affairs ethically and responsibly.

Does my hon. Friend not think that that is underlined by the fact that UK arms sales to Africa actually exceed the UK aid budget for Africa? It could be argued that one cancels out the other.

It is sad to say that the figures mentioned by my right hon. Friend are stark. One of the problems is that apart from official exports, we do not know the full impact. That issue relates to the Quadripartite Committee, which was mentioned earlier.

As I have said, it is crucial that we conduct our affairs ethically and responsibly. The current UK policy of not selling arms to Governments if we believe that they will be used to repress the population is welcome. I note that the Government response to the Select Committee report stresses that

“the UK has one of the strictest export control regimes in the world”.

I do not doubt that we compare favourably with many other nations, but that does not mean that our current system is not in need of reform. We are a major importer and exporter of arms, and I have real concerns that we are not doing enough to track the flow of guns that pass through this country.

I draw the Secretary of State’s attention to my recent attempts to establish the whereabouts of nearly 200,000 assault rifles and machine guns imported from the Balkans in 2005. I have asked a number of Departments exactly where those rifles and machine guns went. Aside from the question of why we need to import arms from the Balkans, I have been disturbed at the revelation that we do not have a clear idea of where those weapons are now. I would like to imagine that a quarter of a million assault rifles were brought in to this country to be melted down and decommissioned because the Balkans do not have the facilities to do it, in the same way as we provide facilities in Sierra Leone to melt down weapons after collections have been organised. However, the current licensing system for tracking imports and exports of arms in this country on a case-by-case basis makes it very difficult to establish a clear picture of the flow of arms through our ports.

Guns do not respect national borders, and at the moment we have no way of knowing where arms that we have exported will end up. Frequently, guns are recycled from conflict to conflict, as in west Africa during the past 10 years, which has fuelled overlapping and uncontained conflicts in Sierra Leone and Liberia among others. I would argue, therefore, that greater knowledge of the end use of our arms exports is of fundamental importance.

I would like the introduction of specific re-export clauses to existing licensed production agreements to be given serious consideration. Does the Secretary of State agree that that would help greatly to prevent the export of arms, produced or exported under licence, to countries of concern? I recall that the Labour 2001 manifesto included a specific commitment to introduce full extra-territorial controls on arms brokering and trafficking, and I would welcome his comments on that priority. I know that the Government have concerns about the logistics of end-use monitoring. However, given the way in which the arms trade operates, it is vital that we pay greater attention to the possibility that arms passing through the UK might end up in some of the conflict zones that we have heard about this afternoon.

We need far better co-ordination across Government to ensure that our work attempting to resolve conflicts in some of the world’s most volatile countries is not undermined by the use of the UK as a stop-over point for guns destined for conflict zones. Part of the problem is the involvement of the overlapping Departments quizzed in the Quadripartite Committee—the Department of Trade and Industry, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Department for International Development and the Ministry of Defence.

Understandably, the Secretary of State’s colleagues at the DTI will be concerned that new regulations in that matter will complicate procedure and deter business, but I point to the results of a 2001 World Bank survey of 69 companies, which found that armed insecurity in fragile countries ranked as the greatest risk facing investors globally. It is in no one’s interest—business is no different—for guns from this country to exacerbate conflicts elsewhere.

In conclusion, there is no doubt that if our overseas aid and development are to be effective, we must play our part not only in attempting to resolve existing conflicts, but in ensuring that we play no part in fuelling future ones.

It is a pleasure to contribute to this debate, Mr. Illsley. I read the report with great interest and compliment the Chairman and the Committee on it.

The report caught my eye because during the last parliamentary summer recess I spent 10 weeks delivering reconstruction and development in Afghanistan as a member of our armed forces. The recommendation that caught my eye was number 11:

“We agree that DFID should not commit its resources to ‘winning hearts and minds’, but we understand why it is often necessary for peacekeeping troops to implement quick impact projects to win support from local people. As an exercise in joined-up government, military commanders should consult DFID, and other development agencies, about their proposals for quick impact projects, to try to ensure that they deliver development as well as security benefits.”

I should like to deal with two aspects of that. First, on quick-impact projects, military forces and development agencies on the ground have a great dilemma between long-term strategic impact and short-term tactical advantage. I assure hon. Members that when a person turns up in somewhere such as Helmand, they will do anything they can to convince the local people that they are there to help. However, that in itself creates a problem, because there is sometimes a lack of strategic thought behind what they are doing.

Furthermore, ultimately we do not want the military to run around delivering quick-impact projects; we want the local people in the provinces—forgive me if I use Afghanistan as an example—to view them simply as a transient force. The Government of Afghanistan should brand the projects. Sometimes it is completely counter-productive for the military to turn up and create quick-impact projects, because it looks as if the Government are so weak that they cannot deliver them. That is a problem.

I also highlight the completely contrasting approaches of the United States Agency for International Development and DFID. USAID seems to concentrate on quick-impact projects. When I looked at a map of its approach, it was almost like a scattergram—projects were going on everywhere, normally delivered by people who rarely left the security of Kandahar base and who employed third parties to deliver the projects. I hope that I do not sound too critical.

Crucially, the projects were decided not by local people but by USAID itself. One example is the women’s centre in Qalat city. It was built without proper consultation with the local people and the end result is that a magnificent building is simply not being used; local people were not consulted and the men will not allow their women to go. That is a classic waste of money as a result of the west trying to impose its will on local people, because we think that we know what is best. Frankly, we do not.

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s insights. I have visited Herat in Afghanistan; we are talking about the most difficult circumstances.

At the core of the “Peacebuilding” report that I mentioned was an emphasis that peacebuilding is relationship-centred—that is, it happens among the people themselves—and that it is participatory. It cannot be done to them or for them; they have to be engaged. Does the hon. Gentleman agree?

The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right and makes a very valid point. I give credit to the Government and DFID for the work that we are trying to do to ensure that we create provincial development councils in Afghanistan that in turn produce their own provincial development plans so that they are the ones generating the need. Unfortunately, however, we are struggling to create that in Afghanistan.

One of our other problems with the quick-impact project is that it breeds reliance on the military structure. Further to what I have just said about provincial development councils, by constantly using a military structure early on we do not encourage the growth of the country’s civic organisation. In Afghanistan, where great progress is being made, a commander on the ground, an NGO or whoever will invariably use the military chain of command to try to work up a project, right from the point of identifying it on the ground. I went out and reccied many projects and would go to the donor community in Kabul to try to find funding for them. However, it was hard to do that because no civic structure existed.

Some structures in Afghanistan, such as the Ministry for Rural Rehabilitation and Development, work well. However, because that is the one Government organisation that is working, all projects go through that chain and other Government structures are simply left alone.

DFID has a reputation for investing in the strategic long-term development of countries—that is great, and I support it—which is different from the USAID approach. However, I was slightly concerned when, having asked some parliamentary questions, I discovered that we had been digging an awful lot of wells, up to 300 now, in Helmand. I have raised with the Secretary of State one of the criticisms that I had when I was in Afghanistan; he has been very kind in response. We have dug so many wells there that the water table has been lowered and the ancient karazes—the waterways that bring water up the mountains—have dried up. That is a classic example of short-term tactical projects affecting long-term strategic aims. When I asked whether we had done a water table survey, I discovered that we had not. To be fair to the Secretary of State, I understand why—it is very hard to find an NGO prepared to go into Helmand and do that. So I do not make a criticism of the Department. However, such dilemmas exist and they are one of the big problems that we face.

Recommendation 11 also mentions co-operation between Government Departments, which has already been raised. Having witnessed co-operation on the ground, I must say that it was quite good. The right hon. Member for Leeds, West (John Battle) mentioned Herat. I will never forget going to a meeting of all the NGOs, development agencies and military members for Regional Command West and witnessing an argument between two Spanish delegates. One was the military commander and the other the head of the country’s equivalent of DFID, the name of which I forget. They were arguing in public about who was supporting whom. Herat had moved on, things were relatively benign and there was not the fighting there that there was in Helmand, so two Government bodies were having a great argument about which was supporting which.

The concept of the three Ds—DFID, the MOD and diplomacy—being equal partners, a triumvirate trying to work together, was simply blown out of the window. I found that worrying. I hope that, as areas such as Helmand move away from war to a more stable environment, we learn the lesson that we, through our three Ds, must not fall into the same trap. I am not sure exactly how we should resolve the issue, but I have genuine concerns about our need to address cross-cutting across Government Departments. I also have concerns about adding a fourth Department, which may make things even worse.

The hon. Gentleman is asking sincerely for information. He had contact and worked with the military in Afghanistan. Is the concept of conflict resolution embedded in any way in the military’s thinking or are they simply too defensive because they are under pressure? Are they proactive on the idea of peacebuilding and conflict resolution in the way that others are starting to discuss?

I am confident that that is the case. When a person goes, they are briefed that that is exactly their mission. That is the focus, certainly within our military.

I should like to develop the point. I have genuine concerns that, although much of the work done through DFID is excellent, sometimes, as politicians sitting here many miles away, we simply do not understand some of the problems on the ground. To give the perspective of NGOs, they would argue that they were doing great work in Helmand, for example, until we turned up. Now, all of a sudden, we have created a situation collectively in which they cannot operate. That worries me.

I want to return to my concern about quick-impact projects for my final example. I remember going to a meeting in Kandahar. As politicians, we must be very careful, but the great joy of going there as a soldier was that no one knew who I was. I listened to an American air force colonel with his head in his hands, saying, “If I am told to produce another—expletive—quick-impact project just because some politician back in Washington wants to see results, I am going to resign.”

It is a great pleasure to follow such an interesting speech. I congratulate the Select Committee on International Development on an excellent report. We have heard today how complex and complicated the subject is. My right hon. Friend the Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce) mentioned education, for example. Although that was not the main focus of the report, I hope that the Committee will at some point look further into education in conflict states. Some 80 million children are not in education in the developing world, and half of those are in conflict-affected areas. It is important to scrutinise these matters and this is an important debate.

As time is short, I shall simply focus on one subject, which is the Department of Trade and Industry’s policy on trade in conflict-affected states. When we face peacebuilding and post-conflict reconstruction, it is crucial that one arm of government co-ordinates with another. It sometimes feels as though the right hand of the DTI—please excuse my mixed metaphors—does not always know what the left hand of the Department for International Development is doing. More worrying is that it possibly does know, but does not accommodate the difference. If we are to be effective, we need to ensure that the whole of the British Government work in the same direction, helping and not hindering, and that different Departments do not work across each other. The Committee did some good work on pointing that out and focusing on it. It is important that the relationship between trade and aid is always considered in the light of what should be cross-departmental objectives. Sometimes, there seem to be DTI objectives and DFID objectives and occasionally they seem to conflict.

I was particularly interested by those parts of the report that deal with conflict resources. It seems to me—I am not hugely experienced in this area—that conflict can take hold easily partly because of the wealth of natural resources in some areas. Instability of governance and poverty of public resource seemingly give power—unlimited power, sometimes—to those who want to raid the natural wealth of a country. That might well be the background to the financing of the conflict, the employment of cheap labour and to a disregard of any rules laid down in that country.

The report rightly points out how trade and aid policies play an integral part in conflict-prone and conflict-affected areas. I congratulate the Committee on focusing on how trade policies can counteract development rather than promote it. That is something that is within our—I say “our”, but I mean the Secretary of State’s—power to resolve. Mechanisms are available for cross-departmental objectives and working.

We have seen such problems before. The al-Yamamah deal is perhaps the best known example, and another is the sale of the over-sophisticated military air traffic control to Tanzania that we debated recently. They seem to fly in the face of all that we claim to want to achieve in aiding poor countries. Interestingly for me, the report uses some lesser known examples, which have been raised by other Members and demonstrate the same problem. Trade policy has not been in line with that of the Department for International Development. I am unclear about what the Government are doing to tackle the problems with conflict resources. What is being done? It would seem not much.

For example, in their response to paragraph 102, the Government say that

“one of a range of options that are currently being considered to fulfil our White Paper commitment to ‘promote international standards on the management of natural resource revenues in countries affected by conflict’. A definition would not in itself provide the controls on illegal trade put in place for diamonds by the Kimberley Process, and its usefulness therefore needs to be considered in a broader context.”

I agree that an international definition of “conflict resource” is not the answer to life as we know it. It might be helpful, but the lack of such an international definition should not stop the British Government from tackling the problems. We have our part to play and should not be waiting for the international community.

My right hon. Friend raised the issue of the UN panel’s calling something “resolved” when that is the wrong definition: the issue is not resolved, and so the process should not have finished. The challenge for the Government of a conflict-affected country is to ensure that natural resources bring benefits to all the people and not simply those in the country who are corrupt.

I would be grateful if the Secretary of State would outline exactly what the British Government are doing to address the illegal exploitation of natural resources in conflict-affected states. When I asked him that question earlier this month, he replied:

“On sanctions, we have played an important role in sanctioning particular individuals, through the UN Security Council, who have violated the arms embargo. We are pushing to extend the list of those who are subject to sanctions, and the UK national contact point has made statements about three of the companies that were highlighted by the UN panel.”—[Official Report, Westminster Hall, 7 March 2007; Vol. 457, c. 466WH.]

That goes back once again to the issue about the word “resolved”. It might all sound fine and dandy, but I ask the question again and urge the Secretary of State to tell us what the UK specifically is doing to address the illegal exploitation of natural resources by British companies and companies linked to Britain.

The report produced pretty damaging evidence of the British Government not doing enough, especially in respect of the examples of Afrimex and Alfred Knight. Are those two companies the tip of an iceberg? Are many more British companies involved in such places? What companies are involved in extractive industries in conflict-affected states? What revenue do the host countries receive from such companies for those natural resources? How are such things monitored by the British Government? What do they do to ensure that British companies stick to the rules? What level of resource do the Government commit to ensuring that British or British-linked companies play by the rules? It is our responsibility to put pressure on British companies or businesses that work with regimes under conflict conditions. Clashes between the DTI and DFID not only make nonsense of post-conflict peacebuilding, but seem to deepen and perpetuate instability.

The report cites UK-based businesses, and yet it is clear that the Government have not driven through stated policies. I hope that the Secretary of State will explain what appears to be a lack of action and rigour on their part. Furthermore, the Government’s response to paragraph 119 made it clear:

“The Government is also committed to work within the OECD to make the Guidelines more effective in promoting responsible business conduct, particularly in countries with weak governance.”

Outside of our need to promote responsible business contact in countries with weak governance, we need to promote responsible business conduct here. We are a country that has not managed a single prosecution under the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development guidelines.

I want DFID to co-operate more with the DTI, the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on the review of the Export Control Act 2002 and the arms trade treaty. We need a strong international arms trade treaty to tighten up the Act. Without systematic enforcement, arms embargoes will remain statements of aspirations. If we are serious about defending human rights and preventing conflict, we must crack down on the trafficking of weapons. I want the Government to throw their full diplomatic weight behind a treaty. One is urgently needed because conflict and post-conflict cannot be tackled in isolation from an arms trade treaty and the review of the Act.

This is difficult territory. No one is saying that stabilising countries, peacemaking and post-conflict reconstruction are easy, but they become much more difficult if we are not straight with ourselves and if the stated aims of Departments conflict or if we ourselves are not above suspicion.

I was surprised and delighted when the business community condemned the suspension of the investigation into the deals that shamed us in the al-Yamamah case. Sceptic that I am, I suppose that for a moment I thought that the approach of business people would be, “Nod, nod, wink, wink. That is how the world works. Fine ideas are okay so long as they remain fine ideas and do not impinge on our trade—we do not stop any practice if trade would be damaged.” However, the business community stood up to be counted, because Britain’s reputation for proper and above-board trading is more important and brings us more benefit than the seamier side of life. We must ensure that we are beyond reproach and that our own house is in good order. Ensuring that that is the case with British companies involved in conflict areas is a good starting point.

Once again, I congratulate the International Development Committee on raising key issues in peacebuilding and post-conflict resolution.

This has been an interesting and worthwhile debate. The Secretary of State will undoubtedly want to cover many of the points that have already been raised, and I intend to raise a few more. At the outset, I want to say to the Chairman of the International Development Committee, the right hon. Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce), that this is an excellent report. It makes a serious contribution to international development, and it is just one reason why his Select Committee is regarded as such a constructive and effective Committee in this House. We look forward to many more such reports in the future.

Several hon. Members made important and interesting comments about the Congo. Leaving on one side the news that has come through today, I hope to visit that country with War Child, an excellent charity that specifically tries to address several of the issues that were raised by the Chairman of the Select Committee and the right hon. Member for Leeds, West (John Battle).

I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Milton Keynes (Mr. Lancaster). He and I visited World Vision, which is in his constituency, only this week. It is a truly excellent organisation. He spoke today from his hands-on experience in delivering aid and effective help in Afghanistan and raised several points. I hope that the Secretary of State will use this opportunity to comment on, for example, the effectiveness of the relationship between the Department for International Development and the Ministry of Defence. What is actually happening on the ground? The two Departments represent the different ways in which Britain seeks to help, in contrast with some other countries that help with development in Afghanistan. For example, I believe that Britain channels more aid through budgetary support than some other countries. Perhaps the Secretary of State could give us a feel for how he thinks things are going, in particular how we might improve some of the relationships on the ground that have been discussed by my hon. Friend, and in other arenas.

The hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Lynne Featherstone) discussed an important area that had not been mentioned hitherto in the debate. Education in conflict states is hugely challenging, but we are talking about some of the most disadvantaged children in the world. I was speaking recently to Jasmine Whitbread, the head of Save the Children, who, along with her colleagues, has taken a special interest in this area. I join her in urging the Government to think again about whether there are other ways in which we can deliver help effectively in the important area of education in conflict states.

The Opposition recognise the work that DFID is doing in conflict prevention and post-conflict reconstruction, and we acknowledge that in many areas its approach to tackling conflict sets a precedent for other international bodies. That is very welcome. We also welcome the fact that work in areas affected by conflict has increased in recent years, and that conflict policy issues have become more pronounced on the DFID agenda. An obvious example of that was the launch last week of DFID’s first conflict policy paper, “Preventing Violent Conflict”. It is clear from reading it that the work of the International Development Committee has not gone unnoticed by the Government. I hope that it will now lead to a more coherent and effective approach to conflict. It is also clear that there is still much to be done in this relatively new field of development, and that if the millennium development goals are to be reached by 2015, conflict must be yet further prioritised on the DFID agenda.

As many have said today, and as the Select Committee report makes clear, there is an inextricable link and relationship between conflict and development. It was spelled out by the right hon. Member for Leeds, West. Anyone who works in this area and takes an interest in such matters, and who watched, for example, the destruction of bridges and so on in Lebanon during the conflict in that country, understands that. Those of us who take an interest in such issues saw not only the destruction of a valuable asset but the barriers to development that resulted from it. We thought of the cost of replacing the bridge—a very real factor—as it literally went up in smoke.

Simply put, we cannot achieve development without security. There can be no poverty alleviation, no malaria or HIV/AIDS drugs programmes and no democracy if there is conflict. That point is plainly illustrated by the fact that 22 of the 34 countries that are furthest away from reaching the millennium development goals are in, or emerging from, conflict. For example, to the poor children and families who live in camps in Darfur—the leader of the Conservative party, my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron), and I met such a family last year—it really does not matter how much aid they receive or how much trade they could benefit from; they will remain poor and destitute, frightened and bitter, until the conflict and the shooting stop. That is the case not only in places such as Darfur, to which I shall return in a moment.

I think of a visit that I made recently to a camp on the Burmese border at Ei Tu Hta on the Salween river. Any Member of this House who visited that camp would react with fury at the sight of what is happening in that part of the world and would return to this House determined to redouble their efforts to bring attention to difficult areas—areas in which DFID and its staff are making a tremendous impact.

I draw the Secretary of State’s attention to what is happening in Burma. DFID’s work, such as that through the three diseases fund, can have a huge impact. On a separate aspect of my visit to Burma, I saw how, through the deployment of money, international support and expertise, we can help prevent HIV/AIDS from reaching epidemic proportions in that benighted country. The disease is already reaching epidemic proportions in the vulnerable communities of gay men and sex workers, but there is still a chance for that country, which has to put up with so much, to avoid epidemic levels of HIV/AIDS. I very much hope that the Secretary of State will continue to scale up the support that we are able to give to organisations that are carrying out extremely valuable work in Burma.

The hon. Gentleman told me about his trip to the Burmese border. Members of the Select Committee intend to visit the Thai-Burmese border in May, and we are anxious to follow up some of his examples, so that through the engagement of all parties, we can help to deliver some solutions. We appreciate his visit and were well informed by it. I hope that we will be able to follow it up in some effective way.

I am grateful for what the right hon. Gentleman has said. It is tremendously important that his Committee visits the Burmese border. As I have said, when he and other hon. Members see what the people have had to put up with, it will make their blood boil. Now is not the time to speak further on that except to point out that, in terms of the work of the Committee, there are countries where active conflict is continuing and less active conflict is taking place, both of which are covered by the recommendations of the report.

I shall return to what I was saying about Darfur. While the conflict rages in Darfur, development cannot take place. In many areas, there are serious regressions. In one internally displaced person’s camp, the World Health Organisation found a daily child mortality rate of 6.7 per 10,000 people, which is many times higher than the normal rate. Médecins sans Frontières says that, in certain towns, malnutrition rates are far in excess of the normal rate and, in some cases, current rates are 25 per cent. global acute malnutrition and 5 per cent. severe acute malnutrition. In other internally displaced people camps, such as in Mumei, which has about 80,000 internally displaced persons, 200 children and adults are dying from diarrhoea every month. Again, I say to the Secretary of State that we are waiting for further action to be taken by the international community on the desperate crisis in Darfur, about which we read every day.

I apologise for not being in for most of the debate; I was attending a sitting of a Bill Committee. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that one of the most horrendous issues that must be addressed in Darfur is the targeting of those who work for non-governmental organisations? The Secretary of State will no doubt talk about that, as the reality is that insecurity on the land among the people per se is made much worse when NGOs cannot carry out their business and have to withdraw.

I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman. When I was there at the end of November, those involved in humanitarian aid and relief made it absolutely clear that the number of areas to which they were or had been denied access was increasing all the time. Targeting such organisations is an insidious policy pursued directly by the regime in Khartoum to make life more difficult for the people living in the circumstances that I have described.

I will return to the point made by a number of speakers that conflict directly eats up the aid budget. As the right hon. Member for Leeds, West has said, it is estimated that the cost of a typical civil war is more than $50 billion. As the report points out:

“New aid commitments made in 2005 could be cancelled out by an increase in conflict and insecurity in the developing countries.”

On top of that, when it is considered that half of post-conflict societies relapse into conflict within a decade, it becomes clear that more attention needs to be paid to conflict-affected countries. Addressing the issue of conflict and its negative effects on development ultimately makes good economic sense. That is made more pressing by the fact that conflict is likely to increase over the next 50 years because of a decrease in natural resources, which has been further exacerbated by climate change. People in the developing world will be likely to suffer most as climate change will make the resources that they depend on, such as fresh water, forests and fisheries more scarce. That will have grave humanitarian consequences.

Oxfam predicts that 30 million more people could be at risk of famine as a result of climate change. The demand for essential natural resources will most likely exacerbate tensions within countries and we are already seeing that around the developing world. For example, a contributing factor to the conflict in Darfur is the change in rainfall that pitted nomadic herders against settled farmers. Conflicts over resources within countries could easily turn into conflicts between countries, either directly through clashes between Governments over a resource, such as a shared river, or indirectly through the pressure of refugees crossing borders. No wonder it is estimated that by 2020, the number of deaths and injuries from war and violence will overtake the numbers of deaths caused by killer diseases such as malaria and measles.

Conflict resolution is therefore probably the most important aspect of international development. We need to stop conflict before it starts and where it has already started. We also need to work towards reconciliation of the parties. It is in the interests of the developed and developing countries to help to create stability. In looking at conflicts that have ended and reconciliation that is taking place, I pay tribute to the work that British aid is enabling in Rwanda.

At the moment, the UN is the main way to achieve conflict resolution, although it needs to recognise that the nature of conflict has changed from disputes that cross country borders to situations of conflict within a country. One of the ways in which we can help to achieve conflict resolution is to rely more on regional organisations. We should pay greater attention to strengthening regional peacekeeping bodies, such as the African Union, mainly because successful outcomes are much more likely if such bodies have the support of those affected by the conflict. That is often more likely if the peacekeeping is home-grown rather than imposed by outsiders. We therefore need to devote significant resources to enable the African Union to act quickly, effectively and decisively to prevent and resolve conflict.

The African Union’s presence in Darfur speaks to its desire to prevent another Rwanda on its continent. Its recent decision to deny its rotating chairmanship to the Sudanese Government—a stinging and humiliating rebuke—offers more evidence of its resolve. However, at the moment the African Union remains terribly ill-equipped, as indicated by the fact that it can muster only 7,000 troops for Darfur and many of those men, despite support from the British taxpayer, have gone through periods when they have not been paid for many months. In Britain, we have a unique opportunity to harness the extraordinary skill and experience of peacekeeping that we have to assist in capacity building with organisations such as the African Union.

I shall now pick out some of the salient points made in the debate today and in the report. Much attention has been paid to the process of conflict assessment, and rightly so. If one is to develop an effective approach to preventing and assisting recovery from conflict, assessment is crucial. As we have heard, the Government’s main tool for that is the strategic conflict assessment, which was established in 2001. So far, assessments have been conducted in 18 countries, of which only five were in Africa—Angola, Mozambique, Nigeria, Uganda and Zimbabwe. Admittedly, strategic conflict assessment is a fairly new tool, but there is still much room for improvement, especially in how systematically and extensively it is used. It is crucial that it is used more extensively because the causes of each conflict are specific to that particular region. Normally, one cannot transpose methods that were successful in one region to another and assessments must be re-evaluated regularly to ensure that, after a conflict, our aid is focused in an appropriate way for each phase of reconstruction.

The Committee drew attention to Sierra Leone, where the Government have failed to re-evaluate their aid sequencing. The Government rightly provided poverty reduction budget support immediately after the conflict to satisfy Sierra Leone’s desperate need for extensive investment in reconstruction. However, a few years on, the continuing provision of that budget support may be entrenching the powers of the political elite and limiting the incentive for them to implement urgently needed governance reforms. Perhaps, the Secretary of State could say something about that.

It is also important that such assessments are not solely carried out in countries that are recently recovering from conflict, but that they are also used as preventive measures. They should be conducted in countries that are at peace, but which have potential sources of tension that could be headed off.

It may also be worth keeping an eye on the politics in Sierra Leone. Through DFID, we have a 10-year arrangement with the Government in Sierra Leone, but the elections will be in July this year. Some of our Committee received representations from the Opposition, who asked if we could keep an eye on good politics and governance because otherwise things could go wrong.

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman. The point that I am making would help to ensure that DFID engages with those countries without exacerbating latent points of conflict.

The Opposition welcome the proposed focus on conflict in DFID’s country governance assessments. Although aid has the potential to promote security and development, it can also create and aggravate tensions. When aid is irresponsibly allocated to countries that are experiencing an ongoing conflict, or to countries that have recently emerged from conflict, it can often create more problems than it solves. For example, direct budget support given to a Government who significantly marginalise or exclude a certain sector of society will inevitably result in that exclusion being further entrenched. There is a large possibility that some form of conflict could subsequently emerge as a result of that segregation.

I welcome the focus that DFID has given to social exclusion in its conflict policy paper. The paper rightly states that exclusion, whether in a political or economic form, is often a source of conflict. I also welcome the emphasis that the policy paper places on making all development assistance conflict sensitive. However, I am concerned that, despite both of those being pervading themes in the paper, there was very little detail about how the Government plan to ensure that direct budget support does not reinforce exclusion and lead to conflict.

At the moment, direct budget support is DFID’s preferred method of providing aid, and it now represents more than 20 per cent. of DFID’s overall aid expenditure. The question is therefore of major concern. Indeed, there have been too many instances of DFID not paying sufficient attention to conflict issues. For example, in both Uganda and Ethiopia, direct budget support was given despite clear points of tension. Uganda had continuing problems in the north, and Ethiopia had unresolved issues over Eritrea. Since then, recent political developments have led the UK to withhold payments, which had a detrimental effect for the neediest people in those countries. As I have said, the problem is exacerbated by the method through which aid was channelled.

I particularly welcome the Committee’s recommendation that analysis resulting from conflict assessments should be made available to the entire Government. That would help further to develop coherence among Departments. That is particularly important, as the International Development Committee found when researching the report that one of the major flaws with the Government’s approach to tackling conflict in the developing world is the lack of departmental co-ordination.

The global and the African conflict prevention pools, which are run jointly by DFID, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Ministry of Defence, are the most prominent examples of inter-departmental co-operation. However, although they represent an encouraging step towards a more joined-up approach, they are still fairly small. Tackling conflict is a multi-faceted issue, and it thus requires involvement from all sectors. I therefore welcome the Committee’s call for greater departmental coherence and its recommendation that the Department of Trade and Industry be included, as appropriate, in conflict prevention matters. The Committee Chairman spelled out the importance of that point, and I am pleased to hear that he expects to hold discussions with the DTI. Indeed, the subject was raised by the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green in the context of the debate on BAE and Tanzania. I thought that the DTI’s response to that debate was not as sensitive as DFID’s response to us.

I turn to a point raised by the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green. When, as was the case in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Angola, Liberia and Sierra Leone, the extraction and selling of natural resources form an important part of the war economy, the wars often last longer and are much harder to resolve. The DFID White Paper said that the Government would

“Press the international community to tackle the trade in conflict resources”.

In March 2005, the Commission for Africa went further and pledged the Government to agree a common definition for “conflict resources”, for global endorsement through the United Nations. It also recommended that a permanent expert panel be created in the UN to monitor the links between natural resource extraction and violent conflict, and the implementation of sanctions.

DFID’s most recent paper, “Preventing Violent Conflict”, to which I referred earlier, although expressing concern over the link between trade in natural resources and conflict, fails adequately to address how it would tackle the connection. There is no mention of pressing for a common definition for “conflict resources”, and there is no mention of the extractive industries transparency initiative. I ask the Secretary of State to say what the Government are doing to apply pressure within the UN for a common definition and what progress is being made.

The process of certifying the origin of valuable natural resources liable to be looted by rebels is already in place in the form of the Kimberley process. That process, which is concerned with the trade of diamonds, has created a two-tier market of diamonds sourced both legitimately and illegitimately. The idea is to squeeze the finances of rebel movements while conflict continues by permitting trade in certified diamonds only. Britain is leading the Kimberley process, and the Government’s commitment to the issue is admirable.

Although the Kimberley process has many flaws, it has had some considerable success. Conflict diamonds now amount to only 1 per cent. of diamond revenue. Given that the diamond industry is worth around $80 billion, that 1 per cent. is significant, but it still represents an improvement. A common definition of “conflict resources” would mean that we would not need a Kimberley process for each resource. It would also mean that if there were convincing evidence that revenues gained from the extraction of a particular resource in a particular country were being diverted to finance conflict, the international community would be able to react and stop the trade in that resource much faster.

Finally, I turn to the arms trade treaty, which was referred to earlier in the debate. It clearly has an enormous effect on conflict. It is estimated that there are about 650 million small arms and light weapons in the world today, and 8 million more are produced every year. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (John Barrett) was absolutely right to say that Kalashnikovs and small arms are the weapons of mass destruction. Without firm and rigorous control, those weapons will continue to fuel violent conflict, domestic violence and human rights abuses.

The Opposition have always supported the principle of the proposed international arms trade treaty since the campaign began in 2003, and we were delighted when, in October last year, the UN voted in favour of a resolution to start work on an arms trade treaty. The new resolution commits the United Nations to set up a group of governmental experts to set up a comprehensive and legally binding instrument to establish

“common international standards for the import, export and transfer of conventional arms”.

At the moment, loopholes in international law cause millions of unnecessary deaths each year, so that movement within the UN is undoubtedly a step in the right direction.

So far Britain has shown strong leadership, and the British arms industry already operates to some of the highest standards in the world. However, work on that treaty has hardly started. We do not have the United States or China on board, which are of particular importance, nor do we have an effective text. I therefore press the Secretary of State to ensure that there is no loss of political momentum on that important issue in the UN. The Government must also ensure that the resultant treaty is effective and that there are adequate and fair mechanisms to enforce it, including provisions against the illegal transfer of arms, which contributes to the sustaining of any form of warfare.

Tackling conflict in the way set out by the Committee, which has been augmented by today’s debate, would lead to huge benefits being available to some of the poorest and most disadvantaged people in the world. The debate has helped to flag up a number of ways in which we could make further progress in the coming months and years. I look forward to hearing how the Secretary of State intends taking that agenda forward in his last few months as Secretary of State for International Development.

I am not sure about that last point. However, I congratulate the right hon. Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce) and the Committee that he chairs both on securing the debate and on the quality of the report. I acknowledge the quality of the speeches given by him and by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (John Battle) and the hon. Members for Edinburgh, West (John Barrett), for North-East Milton Keynes (Mr. Lancaster), for Hornsey and Wood Green (Lynne Featherstone) and for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Mitchell). The subject matter of the debate is difficult and in many respects troublesome, but it is hugely important for the cause of international development, about which we care passionately.

As I reflect on my three and a half years in this job, and as I think about the countries on which I have spent most time, it is apparent that they are actually the same countries in which conflict has been or is endemic, or in which it is threatened. The right hon. Member for Gordon was absolutely right about the large number of people who are poor precisely because they live in such states. Unless we can do something about conflict, and its causes and consequences for poor people, we shall not make the progress that we want to make in the fight against global poverty.

In doing this job I have learned the reason why DFID has to give its attention to conflict. It is because we cannot say, “When it is quiet and peaceful, give us a call and we will come and do our development ‘thing.’” We have to get stuck in regardless of what are sometimes very difficult circumstances, and in due course I shall make some comments about the countries that have been mentioned by right hon. and hon. Members where such circumstances exist. If we do not take on that foundation work, we shall not get to the stage at which we can undertake the development that we all want.

Hon. Members have spoken not only about the current risks but about the new challenges. It is appropriate that we are having the debate on world water day, which reminds us that 1 billion of our fellow human beings do not have water in their communities. Half of the population of the developing world has no access to sanitation, and as the world population increases from just over 6 billion now to more than 9 billion within the next 50 years or so, water will become even more scarce. What are we going to do, as a world, when we start fighting about water, never mind the other resources that are the subject of conflict? Will water become such a conflict resource? It might well do so—the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green nods her head, and I agree. If people start to fight about it then by definition it will have become a conflict resource.

We need to increase the attention that we pay to the issue of conflict, and we need to increase the resources that we put into such countries. That is why the Government committed in the White Paper published last summer to increase our spending in fragile states from 17 per cent. of our overall bilateral spending in 2000 to 30 per cent. in 2005. That is also why we launched a new policy paper on conflict last week. The right hon. Member for Gordon has said some kind words about that paper, and I say to him and to the Select Committee that the Committee’s report influenced its content. We reflected on what we had been doing, and we listened carefully to the Committee’s views.

Hon. Members will be aware that the White Paper says that the Government are going to do three things. First, we shall invest more in preventing violent conflict. Secondly, we shall make our response to armed conflict more effective. And thirdly, we shall make our development work more sensitive to the causes of conflict.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West has said, prevention is better than cure, and research shows that £1 spent on conflict prevention generates average savings of £4 for the international community. If we want the money that we raise to have maximum impact, we should try to stop conflict before it begins, because that is the sensible course.

First, we need to understand and act upon the causes of tension—a point that was made by the right hon. Member for Gordon. Exclusion, injustice and grievances cause conflict and prevent people playing a full role in society. We also need to understand when greed is the cause, and consider how to deal with that.

The second principle is to make our response to conflict more effective. According to the report on human security, the international community is actually getting a bit better in dealing with conflict. There have been more negotiated settlements in the past 15 years than in comparable if not longer periods in the past. We should take hope from that.

Thirdly, we should make our development work more sensitive to the causes of conflict. That is why, as the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield has mentioned, we are building conflict assessments into Government evaluations. We have just completed a regional conflict assessment on the horn of Africa, because one cannot look only at individual countries—one needs to look at the relationships between them. We shall do the same for other parts of Africa as well.

A number of specific countries and subjects were mentioned, and I want to try to cover as many of them as possible. I start with Uganda and the Lord’s Resistance Army, as the right hon. Member for Gordon did. The truth is that the LRA is a pretty horrendous organisation, as we know—it kidnaps children. In my speech at the launch of the conflict paper last week, I told the story of Francis Otwot, who was forced to march for weeks in the bush and who was beaten, brainwashed and made to be a child soldier. He described his life by saying:

“Fighting was part of my work. If I stayed for two weeks without firing, I would feel something was missing, something was not very normal.”

Francis was 10 years old.

The LRA is the type of organisation that can do that. It is an organisation that can kidnap girls and women and make them into sex slaves of the commanders and fighters—and indeed it has. It terrorised the local community in some cases by cutting off people’s lips and ears. I shall never forget as long as I live the front page of the paper in Gulu which I saw the first time I went to northern Uganda. There, on the front page, was a full colour picture of a woman who had had her lips cut off by the LRA.

I mention that not to add to the pain and suffering of the people who have experienced it. I have some sympathy with the difficulty faced by the Ugandan Government in dealing with an organisation that did not really have a political agenda and that was therefore extremely difficult to do business with. We said all along that we did not believe there to be a purely military solution, and I think that that is true, because the Acholi community feels itself to have certain grievances. However, there is no doubt that increased military pressure in recent years has pushed the LRA largely out of northern Uganda, via southern Sudan, into the Garamba national forest. Thereafter, political pressure has brought them out of that forest into the peace negotiations that have been taking place.

The talks have ebbed and flowed. In Juba, it looked at one point as though the LRA was not going to return to the negotiation table. My understanding of the latest situation is that it has agreed to return, and I pay tribute to the former President of Mozambique, ex-President Chissano, for his role. The LRA is a very difficult group of people to deal with, as the right hon. Member for Gordon is aware.

Let me say one thing on budget support. We had concerns about governance more generally in Uganda and about the level nature of the playing field in the run-up to the first multi-party elections, so I took away some direct budget support from the Ugandan Government and put it into increased humanitarian effort in the north. We did not punish the people. Similarly, as the right hon. Member for Gordon knows, we completely withdrew direct budget support in Ethiopia because of what happened after the elections there, and we found another way to give financial support to the poorest people. As the right hon. Gentleman has said, people should not be punished twice over for problems of governance in their country.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo is a country that has been raped, pillaged, impoverished and brutalised, first by colonial privateering, secondly by neighbouring country privateering and, thirdly, by Congolese privateering. That is a history of the country over the past 150 years in a nutshell, and it is why the political transition and the elections mattered so much. It is also why it is so vexing that fighting has today broken out in Kinshasa—I was briefed on that on the phone before coming into the debate, and it seems to be quite serious in the centre of Kinshasa. The people of the Congo have above all put huge effort into resolving the conflict by registering in large numbers and by voting. The international community has given a lot of support—Britain was the largest funder of the elections.

As the right hon. Member for Gordon has said, leaders have to lead. The responsibility on President Kabila, on former Vice-President Bemba, who lost the elections, on Prime Minister Gizenga and on everybody else is to use politics to resolve the problems of the Congo, because, if they return to fighting, all the gains of the past three years will disappear and the country will return to impoverishment. There will be little that we can do to help beyond continuing to provide humanitarian sticking plasters. People do not want sticking plasters any more—they have had enough and want the chance of a better life.

I assure hon. Members that we will continue to fund the Panzi hospital and the building of its new wing for treating fistula, and we will encourage others to do so.

The issue of conflict resources and UK companies in particular was raised by the hon. Members for Edinburgh, West and for Hornsey and Wood Green. Of the four British companies named by the UN panel on illegal exploitation of natural resources in 2002-03, the UK national contact point has looked into the matter and made statements in respect of De Beers, Avient and Oryx. The national contact point is continuing to review the information supplied in respect of DAS Air, which was pretty complex, and will make a statement as soon as possible. I understand that the UK contact point is one of a small number of contact points in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development system that seek to look into and investigate the information provided.

One of the things that we have done to try to strengthen the system is establish the new national contact point, which is now run jointly by the DTI, the FCO and DFID. We accept the point that bits of Government need to join up. A steering board is being established to oversee its work. That will include members who are independent of Government, which is another recommendation that has been made to us.

The truth is that we all have a sense of frustration about this issue. As I reflect on my dealings in this area, and having read the reports, I can say that the expert panel may come up with what some people say is evidence and what others say are assertions, but the fact is that to be able to take action—to prosecute—for breach of an embargo, for example, we have to have clear evidence that a company has been responsible. The Congo is a very good example of just how difficult that is. In that country, communication is hard, people can move around and it is hard to see what is going on. With the best will in the world, if the expert panel, which may be in the country looking around and seeking evidence, finds it difficult to obtain categorical evidence that people have been up to no good, it is quite difficult for national contact points in OECD countries, which are not in the Congo or other countries seeking to do that, to undertake the work.

On Afrimex, my understanding is that in the initial list of companies investigated by the UN—the one that produced the four UK names—it was exonerated. However, recently—some three weeks ago, I think— further evidence was lodged with regard to Afrimex, and the national contact point has written to the parties to follow that up.

On the broader question that the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green raised, we are discussing how best to pursue the issue of trying to come up with a definition within the international system. Quite how long that will take, I do not know. Is the lack of a definition really the fundamental problem? The hon. Lady shakes her head. I must say that I have some sympathy with that view. It would be good to try to secure agreement, but broadly speaking we know what we are trying to deal with. That is why the extractive industries transparency initiative is all about a means of trying to shine a light on what is going on, so that people can see better. A number of right hon. and hon. Members have referred to the Kimberley process, which has worked pretty well. That shows what we can do when we put our minds to it. We also want to improve the current sanctions process and to establish an expert panel in the UN, because if there could be a permanent panel, as opposed to a series of ad hoc panels, that might build up expertise.

I would like to read out the record of an exchange that took place when we took evidence from Afrimex. It shows why we think that more should be done. The exchange goes:

“Joan Ruddock: At any time did you refer to the Department of Trade and Industry in this country?

Mr. Kotecha: No.

Joan Ruddock: You never referred, you never took advice?

Mr. Kotecha: No.

Joan Ruddock: And they never contacted you at any time?

Mr. Kotecha: No.”

This is not just about prosecution; it is about a kind of cultural exchange. If the company is being investigated, it is not satisfactory that there appears to be no engagement between the DTI and the company in that process. I hope that what the Secretary of State has told us about the new co-ordinating methods will ensure that such a situation will not arise in future.

I very much hope that the new system will improve the operation of the process. That is why we have set up the new national contact point with the three Departments. That is why we have brought in the independent members, who are in the process of getting on to the panel—so that that wider view can be heard and precisely those questions about how the system has worked in the past and how it can be improved in the future can be asked. That will be a real step forward.

My hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock) has had to leave us, but she made a very important point about the role that women can play, which is why I am proud that the UK is one of the first countries to develop an action plan under UN Security Council resolution 1725.

Sierra Leone was mentioned in particular by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West, who made a very good point about the growth of the cities, including Freetown. The situation in Monrovia is the same. Conflict happens and people come to the cities, because things may be a bit more secure there and to look for a way of earning a living. That is one of the challenges.

Jobs are another issue. There is now relative peace and security in Sierra Leone, and Britain played a very important part in achieving that. I pay tribute to UNAMSIL—the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone—for the work that it did. It came, it pacified and secured and it has gone, but now that there is relative peace and security in Sierra Leone, where will people earn their living? There is a growing young population. The same is true of a number of other countries, and if people cannot find a way of fulfilling their potential and earning a crust, they may be vulnerable to those who stir up grievances and want to return to conflict.

What is the best thing that can be done to build on the foundation of peace and stability in Sierra Leone? The answer is creating the right climate, in which people from Sierra Leone and outside will want to come and invest their money, to get the economy going and to draw on Sierra Leone’s raw materials and natural resources. If we look back in time, we see that Sierra Leone was a pretty prosperous country relative to a number of its neighbours, which shows that it has been the failure of Governments and the conflict that have brought it to its knees and impoverished the people so much.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West asked about the Peacebuilding Commission. As hon. Members will know, Sierra Leone and Burundi are the locations of the first two pilots, and yes it does consult civil society organisations as well as those based in New York.

The hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield made a very good point about the nature of our support in the circumstances that we are discussing. He gave us credit, I think, for the decision that we took at the time to provide some of our funding to Sierra Leone in the form of direct budget support because of the needs of the situation, but I continue to reflect on the issue that he raised, because we need to ensure that we give our support in the right way in the right circumstances.

The hon. Member for Edinburgh, West asked about Iraq. It is tough going there, as we know. Our contribution, as he will be aware, has specifically been on reconstruction, water and electricity in the south. Let me describe the real challenge in Iraq. If the people can get peace and security, they have lots of natural resources and lots of wealth. If they can make the system work, there should be no difficulty in funding and supporting redevelopment there. However, as the current terrible conflict, the sectarian butchery and the suicide bombings demonstrate, lack of security is the principal obstacle.

We are a significant contributor to the Afghanistan reconstruction trust fund, which is not budget support, because it pays out only in response to certified expenditures. It pays for teachers’ salaries and those of other civil servants. There is progress: 4 million refugees have come back; 40 per cent. of the children in school now are girls. There are about 6 million children in school altogether, and 19 per cent. of the people in higher education are young women. The return of refugees is always a pretty good sign that things are improving.

The hon. Member for North-East Milton Keynes, who serves in every sense, both this House and in his service in Afghanistan, speaks with real authority and insight, and I could not agree more with his comments about the need to build local capacity. He highlighted the tension that is there between what is done by soldiers, who we ask to do a very difficult and demanding job, which sometimes involves killing people in the country that they have come into, and what we all know in the long term is required for the country to be able to prosper, which is the country and its own structures being able to act for themselves.

Some of the wells that the hon. Gentleman referred to have been dug as a result of quick-impact projects, but I pay tribute to the British military, because they did not use their engineers and say, “Right, we’ve got the capacity. We’ll go and do the wells.” Even with the quick-impact projects, they used and worked with Afghan contractors so that there was a greater local stake. The other wells that we dug were the result of the Helmand rural development programme and the Afghan authorities, which use Afghan contractors and labour.

Afghanistan has thrown into sharp relief some of the choices that we have to make about what we have to do first and when. It is an example of the pretty close working relationship between the Ministry of Defence, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and DFID, not least because the difficult security situation there has made it such.

Before the Secretary of State moves on from his discussion of Afghanistan, will he comment on suggestions that Britain is unlike other countries in that it channels its aid through the Afghan Government? Other countries channel far less through them. Is that true? If so, why is that the case?

Yes, it is the case. It is principally because the Government of Afghanistan asked us to do it that way precisely so that they have the capacity to deliver for their people in the way that the hon. Member for North-East Milton Keynes talked about and so that their people look not to us, the Americans or other countries that are represented in Afghanistan, but to their own Government to build that capacity.

The point that I was making was that these matters are quite straightforward and easy in Helmand. There is still conflict, but the military are definitely in the lead there, so the triumvirate structure falls into a natural hierarchy. I am concerned about how that structure will work between the three Departments in other situations, such as that in Herat, where, as I tried to highlight, there is not a natural leader among the three Ds. How will we tackle that issue?

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, because we have to learn from these experiences, some of which are new. In Helmand, we found ourselves in a situation that was more difficult than we had anticipated. All that I can say to him is that although we have not found all the solutions to working together effectively, the three Departments are unquestionably working more closely together than ever before. I am a practical soul; we need to look at what works and draw on experiences, including those of hon. Members who visit and serve there. If we have not got things right, we need to find ways of getting them right.

In his response to my earlier intervention, the Secretary of State explained that Britain is channelling more budgetary support than other countries to Afghanistan. Will he assure us that he is absolutely happy that the British taxpayer is getting value at the other end for every £1 of aid that we put in, and that the stories suggesting that some of the money is being siphoned off are untrue?

Just to be absolutely clear, we are not providing direct budgetary support to Afghanistan. We have put a significant amount of money into the Afghan reconstruction trust fund, which is a multi-donor trust fund and is managed by the World Bank on behalf of all the donors who put cash in. It pays out only in response to certified expenditure, so it is constructed precisely to give the assurance for which the hon. Gentleman asks—quite rightly, because it is a difficult country in difficult circumstances. Britain should be proud of its contribution. In putting that money in, I want to be sure, as does he, that the money gets to its intended destination.

On the arms trade treaty, which was mentioned by several hon. Members, the extra-territoriality rules on brokering apply to long-range missiles, WMD technologies, torture equipment and embargoed goods. The current review will consider whether, in the light of experience, that should change. Some 150 countries voted in favour of the treaty at the General Assembly in December, and a group of experts is being established and will report back in 2008. That is a tremendous result so far, and I assure the House that we will continue to press strongly on that issue. To some extent, it will wrap up some of the work that is being done on small arms and light weapons. There is also a separate UN programme of action on that, but, unfortunately, the July 2006 conference failed to reach agreement on it.

On assault rifles, any weapons in the country that someone proposes to take out of the country would have to go through the export licence process, so safeguards would apply. I must say that I have not heard before the statistics about arms sales that the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West gave. My information is that aid to Africa is about £1 billion a year, and that UK military exports to International Development Association countries—I am not sure whether this includes just those in Africa or all IDA countries—are worth about £100 million a year. Some of the exports to Africa are for peacekeeping missions and sometimes involve dual-use goods. However, I am happy to look into those statistics further.

On Burma, I am grateful to the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield for his kind words about the work that we are doing there, and for the trip that he took and the way in which he reported back on the terrible sights that he saw there.

On Darfur, which we have debated many times, I share the concerns that have been expressed. I am particularly concerned about the last-minute cancellation by the Government of Sudan of the humanitarian discussion that was scheduled for Monday. I spoke to the Foreign Minister on Monday lunchtime to express my profound displeasure about that. The new head of the Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs, John Holmes, is in Sudan now and will pursue the agreement that we need to allow the humanitarian relief operation to work, because the people there face enormous risks. We need to get the troops in, but President Bashir’s recent resiling from the agreement on the hybrid force is very worrying. We wish to increase sanctions upon him, but, in the end, we need a political settlement—and that we will pursue.

I know that it is not appropriate to look in detail at what the Prime Minister has written to Chancellor Merkel, but there comes a point at which what has been discussed between western Governments has to be made known, if for no other reason than to make it clear to those who have campaigned for some time for sanctions to be imposed on Khartoum. I simply wondered what timetable we might be working to.

We wish to press that. The arms embargo should be extended to the whole of Sudan. We are trying to get consensus in the international community to do that through the UN Security Council and to beef up the sanctions structure that we and others put in place by passing the UN Security Council resolution, so that where individuals are shown to have acted in a way that is contrary to the obligations, they feel the consequences.

May I reiterate a point that the Secretary of State made on Burma? In such states, people would lose out twice over were they not to receive any support or aid at all—of course, it would not be channelled through the Government there. In the past two years, he has been scaling up the effort inside Burma, and I very much hope that he will continue to do so, because the work that is being done to help the Burmese people to combat terrible diseases is enormously effective. I hope also that he will continue to ensure that the budget, which is very low, is increased in the coming years.

I will just point out to the hon. Gentleman that, of the European countries, we are the largest donor to Burma. However, I recognise that its needs are considerable, and as we look at the comprehensive spending review and future profile of our spending, I promise to take into account the point that we were already aware of and that he makes as a result of his visit: there are still huge unmet needs in Burma.

My last point is that when we draw back from the specific cases that we have raised today and think about the impact of conflict on Iraq, Afghanistan, Sierra Leone, Liberia, the Congo, Kosovo, Sudan and many other countries, we do not yet have an effective international system for protecting people from genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes. We are therefore unable to protect them from the development consequences of the continuing conflict in the lands in which they live. It is a really uncomfortable situation, and the international community is struggling to find the means that it needs.

I am a passionate multilateralist, who wants the institution that we created at the end of the second world war out of the ashes of terrible conflict, the United Nations, to be effective at doing the job, but there is a lack of will and means. For that reason, I am also a strong supporter of the regional efforts that the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield has mentioned. That also explains why we have been a strong supporter of the African Union, why we are helping it to establish the stand-by force and why we have given so much money to its mission in Darfur. The more that we can build capacity and find reliable ways of funding it—this is why I strongly support UN funding for the hybrid mission—the more we will begin to answer the question of what we should do when conflicts strike.

I shall end where the right hon. Member for Gordon began. He made the point well that because we are passionate about development, we must be equally passionate about dealing with conflict. The lives, future prospects and hopes of billions of our fellow human beings will depend on the extent to which we are successful in that.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at nine minutes to Five o’clock.