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Darfur

Volume 472: debated on Tuesday 19 February 2008

7. What assessment he has made of the political situation in Darfur; and if he will make a statement. (186589)

Sustainable peace in Darfur can be achieved only through the political process under United Nations and African Union leadership. But fighting between Sudanese forces and rebels makes the situation increasingly complex and the consequences for civilians increasingly dire. We call on the parties to uphold a ceasefire and we are supporting attempts to reinvigorate the political process. We are also pushing for the accelerated deployment of the UN-AU force.

I thank the Minister for that reply. Given the necessity of helicopter units to the UN-African Union Mission in Darfur and the Government’s preparedness to underwrite the costs to other countries of donating helicopter assets, has the Minister had any dialogue with her counterparts in Ukraine and Russia about that possibility?

As my hon. Friend says, the issue of helicopters is enormously important. The UK convened meetings in New York on 16 and 30 January in support of the UN to discuss approaches to generating helicopter units for UNAMID. The representatives of more than 20 countries attended that meeting. My noble friend Lord Malloch-Brown also visited New York last week to press for rapid effective deployment of UNAMID, and those issues were raised then.

Although the Minister’s answer is welcome, does she realise that Ethiopia has managed to find five helicopters for Darfur whereas the UK Government, the US and all the NATO and EU countries have not managed to provide a single helicopter? Are not the people of Darfur entitled to ask what has happened to the Government’s many promises of help and support? I asked a similar question to the Foreign Secretary six weeks ago, and he told me he shared my sense of urgency. Is it not time that the Government acted urgently, got the helicopters deployed and did not leave all the efforts to American actors and film directors?

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman does not recognise the huge effort from the UK to support the mission, as well as the substantial financial support that is being offered. We have lobbied hard to close remaining gaps in helicopter provision. We have targeted Egypt, South Africa and the central European states, including, as my hon. Friend the Member for Calder Valley (Chris McCafferty) mentioned, Ukraine, as well as Bulgaria and Slovakia. The issue is that the helicopters need to be suitable for the circumstances and the terrain in Darfur. We need those helicopters, and it is important that we keep trying to get them as soon as possible.

Too many people have suffered too much for too long with too little done to help them in Darfur. Given that foot-stamping by the Sudanese Government has thus far acted as an effective veto on the necessary AU-UN troop deployment to the region, will the Under-Secretary of State tell the House, on a scale of one to 10, what she reckons is the likelihood that that necessary deployment will take place before the genocide of Darfurians has been completed?

I know that the hon. Gentleman rightly takes a great interest in this issue, and we share his concern about the slow process of deployment. Some 10,000 people—7,000 of them troops—have already been deployed to Darfur, but we want more to happen, and more quickly. We have concerns about the Sudanese Government blocking part of the deployment, and we continue to press them about that. We also have concerns about the rebel groups’ failure to take part in the political talks that must take place alongside the peacekeeping process.

My hon. Friend’s response to the earlier question was a little bleak and depressing for all of us who care about the continuing misery in Darfur. Is there no way ahead? Is there not even a way to have an intelligent dialogue with the Chinese to try and break the deadlock in Darfur?

My hon. Friend raises an important point. The Chinese special representative for Sudan and Africa will meet my hon. Friend the Minister for the Middle East later this week. Let us be clear: the Government are providing a great deal of support for the process. We have made available £1 million to the AU-UN joint mediation support team, and we are the second largest bilateral humanitarian donor to Sudan.

Given that only 9,000 of the promised 26,000 peacekeeping troops have been deployed in Darfur, and that more than 250,000 Darfuris have had to flee their homes in the past 10 months alone, does not the Minister accept that we need rather more than warm words and further meetings, and that our Government must show diplomatic leadership? Will the British Government now press for further sanctions against the Sudanese leadership if they continue to block the deployment of the full peacekeeping force? In addition, will our Government seek to impose an air exclusion zone so that the Sudanese can be prevented from using their aircraft to attack their own people?

I do not accept the views that the hon. Gentleman is putting forward. We are taking a lead on the matter, and pressing very hard for a full deployment. As I am sure that he recognises, it is very important that other countries in the international community play their part and get involved. Further sanctions are, of course, an option, and tougher measures may be necessary if the Government of Sudan and the rebel groups continue to fail to co-operate.

Topical Questions

The House will know that on 17 February the Parliamentary Assembly of Kosovo declared Kosovo to be an independent state. The declaration also committed Kosovo to implement fully UN Special Envoy Ahtisaari’s comprehensive proposal, including extensive safeguards for all Kosovo’s minorities.

The UK has decided to recognise Kosovo’s independence and establish diplomatic relations with that country. I have set out more details in a written statement that I have put before the House today, but I shall take this opportunity to underline three factors that have driven our approach.

First, we share the view that leaving Kosovo’s status unresolved is “unsustainable”, to quote the UN Secretary-General. Secondly, after almost two years of intensive negotiations, it was clear that a mutually agreed settlement between Belgrade and Pristina, although desirable in many ways, was out of reach. In those circumstances, the implementation of the UN special envoy’s proposals was the most viable way forward. Thirdly, the EU and other international players have made clear their readiness to play a leading role in implementing a settlement—a point demonstrated by yesterday’s unanimous Council conclusions.

We shall work closely with our international partners and Kosovo’s Government to support Kosovo as she takes her next steps forward.

My right hon. Friend has received a request from the overseas territories that they be allowed to lay a wreath at the Cenotaph. Discussions have taken place with his Department, and I do not believe that his ego is so great that he will not recognise that the overseas territories have a right to lay a wreath at the service, given that their people have given, and continue to give, their lives on behalf of our armed forces. Will he give in and allow the overseas territories to lay the wreath themselves?

As my hon. Friend knows, the Secretary of State lays a wreath on behalf of the overseas territories at the service at the Cenotaph. There are no plans at present to change that arrangement.

With reference to Kosovo, may I agree with the Foreign Secretary? Nearly two years of negotiations between Belgrade and Pristina failed to reach agreement, so the supervised independence of Kosovo, in line with the Ahtisaari plan, became the only realistic way forward. However, will the right hon. Gentleman make it clear to Kosovo’s leaders that the widespread support here in Britain for that country’s independence depends crucially on one thing above all—the full protection of the rights of all minorities, including property and religious sites? If that protection is supplied, the dark fears of the past in that region will not be ignited again.

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his constructive and supportive attitude to this difficult issue. I absolutely assure him that the spirit as well as the letter of the Ahtisaari plans is important to us. The cultural and religious sites that he mentions are important to many of the Kosovar Serbs, who are not simply in the north of the country but also in the south. I assure him that, both in our contacts with the new Kosovan Government and in my statement yesterday, I was clear about the importance of this aspect of the Ahtisaari plan.

On a separate issue, may I return the Foreign Secretary to the Prime Minister’s speech at the lord mayor’s banquet on 12 November on foreign policy, which called for EU sanctions on the Iranian financial sector and on investment in Iranian oil and gas fields? Iran is now thought to be nearing the threshold for the industrial enrichment of uranium. It continues to develop ballistic missile programmes. Does he agree that the issue has lost none of its urgency since the Prime Minister spoke? Can he say whether sanctions in line with those called for by the Prime Minister are ever going to be agreed, or is there now a danger that western policy on Iran has begun to unravel?

Far from unravelling, the “western” policy that the right hon. Gentleman describes now has the formal support of China and Russia as well, as a result of the E3 plus 3 meeting in Berlin and other discussions that I and other colleagues have been having. He is right to continue to point to the importance of this issue and to stress that there is a clear choice for Iran. It can either work with the international community and reap all the economic, scientific and technological benefits of such co-operation, or defy three successive UN Security Council resolutions—another one is in the pipeline—and suffer the consequences. I believe that the sanctions to which the Prime Minister referred remain important. The UN is in the lead this month with a resolution soon to be tabled, and it will be for the EU then to follow. I might point out that EU sanctions currently go beyond what is required by the UN resolution currently in place.

T4. Yesterday’s elections in Pakistan were significant. Will it not be important to maintain good relationships with the current President and develop new ones with the incoming Government? What did the British Government do yesterday to ensure that the elections were free and fair? (186525)

My hon. Friend makes an important point. The election results to be announced in Pakistan over the next week or so matter to us all, and the credibility of those results is critical to this country. I can assure my hon. Friend that we worked closely with the Government of Pakistan on the detailed arrangements in 64,000 polling stations for which they had responsibility, and the importance of due process in those polling stations. The EU observer mission will be reporting later today, but I am sure it is gratifying for the whole House that despite, by our standards, large loss of life and injury over this weekend of voting, the allegations of electoral fraud seem to be small in number. There seems to be some confidence that, now that the governing party has indicated that it expects to spend time on the Opposition benches, the election results will carry credibility. I certainly intend to follow that up as the new Government are put into place.

T2. What did the Foreign Secretary make of Vladimir Putin’s belligerent final presidential press conference? What read-across does it have for Kosovo, bearing in mind the welcome news of this weekend? (186523)

I would like to have a longer chance to discuss British relations with Russia, but specifically in respect of the western Balkans, President Putin, soon to be Prime Minister Putin perhaps, made it clear that he did not propose to take action in respect especially of the Georgian provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. That is important.

In respect of Kosovo, the Russian position has been made clear at the UN Security Council and elsewhere. Diplomatic protests and political views are welcome, but it is important on the basis of my discussions this morning with the new British ambassador in Pristina that the situation in Kosovo is calm. The continuation of electricity and other supplies is giving confidence to people there that the situation will remain calm.

T6. My right hon. Friend will be aware that Colombia is considered the most dangerous country in the world in which to be a trade unionist. Last August, I went with a delegation of British trade unionists and parliamentarians to Colombia to meet victims of human rights abuses. While we were there, we met many trade unionists who had been detained in jail without trial for lengthy periods for their trade union activities. One of them was Carmen Mayusa, who has been detained in custody without trial since 11 May 2006 for being involved in campaigns against the privatisation of the Colombian health service— (186527)

My hon. Friend is quite right; Colombia is a very dangerous place. I met the chairman of the Colombian TUC on my last visit to Bogota, and a large delegation of Colombian trade unionists will come to this country shortly. We will discuss with them how we can help to ensure the security of trade unionists in Colombia. I add that the people who are murdering the most trade unionists in Colombia are not the Colombian Government but FARC.

T3. Yesterday saw the publication of the first version of the dossier that took us to war in Iraq. It is quite clear that it was written by a Foreign Office press officer, yet in May 2003 Downing street said:“Not one word of the dossier was not entirely the work of the intelligence agencies”,and much of the wording from the first version is replicated in the final version. When will the Foreign Secretary correct that totally wrong statement, and when will we have a proper inquiry into why we were led into an illegal war in Iraq contrary to British interests? (186524)

I certainly continue to believe that the September 2002 publication was the work of the intelligence services. The fact that both that document and the so-called Williams draft drew on similar intelligence material explains why the wording, to use the hon. Gentleman’s phrase, is so similar. It seems to me that he and the Government have a difference of opinion about the Iraq war, but the publication of the Williams draft puts to bed many of the phantom scare stories put around about the origins of various aspects of the September 2002 document, not least of which is the so-called 45-minute claim, which he will now see was never in the Williams draft.

T5. Further to that question, given that the Foreign Secretary has been forced to publish the Williams draft of the Iraq dossier, will he now reverse his previous refusal to answer the key questions that his Department has been avoiding during the past three years, including who authorised John Williams to produce the draft, who it was handed to and who commented on it? Otherwise, the Government’s continued evasiveness on the issue can only create the further impression that they have something to hide. (186526)

The hon. Gentleman has pursued the issue for a long time, but now that the document has been published, I do not see how he can refer to evasiveness in respect of its contents. We do not know who wrote the marginalia and comments; that was made clear yesterday, not least by John Williams. Now that the document is in the public domain, it would be as well for the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues to recognise that publication has taken place and that we can debate what was in the dossier.

However, it remains important that draft documents and discussion within Government should be free and frank. It cannot be the case that officials believe that everything that they write down will go into the public domain. They must be able to advise Ministers without fear or favour, and it was that important point of principle that the Government were defending. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman can speak to me afterwards, as I did not hear what he said. There has been the publication of—

T10. The world has been rightly preoccupied with the situation in Kenya. Both the previous and the present UN Secretary-General have been involved, and President Bush visited recently. However, in neighbouring Somalia the situation is absolutely desperate. The warlords are still in control, and the peace process and the reconstruction of the Government have not gone anywhere significant. If I were to advise Osama bin Laden where to look for the next failed state, Somalia would be high on the list. Will the British Government give us some assurance that we will play our role at the international level so that concentration through the African Union is devoted to ensuring that Somalia is reassembled and given the opportunity to function as a modern state? (186531)

My hon. Friend is correct. Somalia is generally regarded as being, perhaps, the world’s only current failed state. It has had 16 years of brutal violence and is indeed a human tragedy. My hon. Friend will rightly continue to raise the matter. We are determined to play our part in the international community and also with the transitional federal Government to make sure that there can be effective governance and a degree of reconciliation, and to ensure that those 16 years of violence are brought to an end.

T9. Does not the Simon Mann case underline the folly and short-sightedness of the Government in closing missions and embassies all over Africa? Twenty-three African nations have no British diplomatic representation at all, including Equatorial Guinea. Will the Minister give a commitment that Mr. Mann’s rights will not be undermined as a result of the Government’s short-sightedness? (186530)

The Government consider carefully where we have our diplomatic missions and we make sure that there are appropriate arrangements for consular support wherever British citizens are in the world. As the hon. Gentleman knows, HM consul in Lagos travelled to Malabo on 5 February and subsequently was able to visit Mr. Mann in prison in Malabo on 12 February. He will continue to keep in contact with Mr. Mann, and we will continue to provide excellent consular services to all British citizens wherever they are in the world.

The UN special envoy on Burma is touring ASEAN—Association of South East Asian Nations—countries in an attempt to get them to act together in relation to Burma, and he has confirmed that India and China have the most leverage over Burma. What influence are we exercising over India and China to get them to exercise that leverage?

My right hon. Friend is right. The role of India and China in seeking to influence what takes place in Burma is enormously important. The topic of Burma is raised whenever we have contact through my noble Friend Lord Malloch-Brown in relation to China and India. The Prime Minister raised the matter when he was in China, and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will also do so on his visit to China.