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Westminster Hall

Volume 474: debated on Tuesday 1 April 2008

Westminster Hall

Tuesday 1 April 2008

[Mr. Eric Martlew in the Chair]


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

Despite having worked in Africa for a number of years before entering Parliament and serving as vice-chairman of the parliamentary all-party group on Africa, I have not, to my embarrassment, done more on Sudan, and on Darfur specifically. Indeed, I only engaged in that country’s affairs and those of the region two years ago.

On Holocaust memorial day, I went to sign the book of remembrance—or condolence; I am unsure exactly how to refer to it—and was surprised that I was expected to make a comment as well as signing my name. I wrote, “We must remember, lest we make the same mistakes again.” I said “we” because all members of the human race are culpable in the problems around the world. When I returned to my office, my research assistant, Philippa Buckley, whom I respect very much, asked me what I had written. I told her, and she laughed in my face—not because it was funny, but because my comments were somewhat facile and simplistic. We face such problems around the world, and Darfur is just one of the places where they are happening. Never before in my three years as a Member of Parliament, and never since, have I felt so weak and so unable to make an impact on a situation that needs the world’s attention.

The Aegis Trust recommended to MPs that now was a good time to build on the Westminster Hall debates secured by the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) and the right hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Mr. Clarke), particularly as we have just passed the five-year anniversary of what most people regard as the beginning of the conflict. We are also coming up to 13 April—the day for Darfur—so today is a good time to review the situation in Sudan.

Before my hon. Friend moves too far from his point about facile comments, does he, like me, find it a little bit rich that President Sarkozy and other EU leaders talk about redoubling their efforts when they have failed to meet their promises to provide peacekeepers in Darfur? Perhaps they ought to address their protectionist EU trade policies, which add to instability in that region of Africa.

I certainly agree that talk has been easy, and that there has been little delivery. I am critical not only of Sarkozy but of the Government, although not in a party political way. Given the mechanisms of British politics, it is the Government and the Minister of the day who are responsible, not Parliament as a whole. It is not a party political matter; the buck simply rests with the Minister in her current role.

I shall draw heavily on the work of the Aegis Trust and the International Crisis Group, as well as research provided by the all-party group on Sudan. I commend the hon. Member for Stroud, the chair of the all-party group, and his team on their excellent work. The Minister might agree that an hour and a half is not enough time to cover all the pertinent points. If the all-party group collates some of the remaining questions and research from the Aegis Trust, perhaps she could respond fully in something between a letter and a Select Committee reply—clearly, it would not be appropriate for her to go that far—and come back to the group in slightly more substantial detail. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Stroud is nodding assent, so perhaps that is a sensible way forward on the points that are not covered.

Sudan is racked with conflict. In only 11 of the past 50 years or so has there been anything other than a state of civil war. One of the things that compelled me to face the enormity of the situation is the number of people who have died—not the absolute number, but the change in number. The figure of 200,000 was quoted time and again until Jan Egeland pointed out that as it applied two and a half years ago, it was probably out of date, and that 400,000 might be more appropriate. Overnight, everyone has suddenly started using the figure of 400,000, which is double what they were talking about only months ago. That brought home the horrendous nature of what has happened.

The Aegis Trust is good at bringing to the forefront the contemporary nature of the atrocities. I visited the trust in Rwanda as part of a visit with Christian Aid and Oxfam, and one of the things that concerned me was how normal the context is within which genocide and atrocities take place. It is far too easy to think of Sudan and Darfur as faraway places that are somehow different from the United Kingdom. I have not had the opportunity to visit Sudan, but from my extensive travels in other African countries I think that the similarities between our continents and countries are much greater than we realise.

I shall concentrate on five core areas and come on to make some action points. It is important that we consider action rather than words, as we have had far too many words without action. I shall concentrate on the no-fly zone, sanctions—particularly travel sanctions—the logistics of delivering aid within the area, the UN force and China’s role. On the no-fly zone, will the Minister confirm what methods are being considered? Most of the documentation refers to helicopter cover of the no-fly zone, but the Prime Minister stated on 12 March that he had considered the no-fly zone, and that he

“would like to move ahead, if it were at all possible; however, we have to accept that the area to be policed is the geographical size of France and large numbers of aeroplanes would be needed.”—[Official Report, 12 March 2008; Vol. 473, c. 275.]

He was speaking of aeroplanes, not helicopters, which are more commonly considered.

I appreciate the constraints on our military, but if we accept that they exist to do anything more than simply protect the United Kingdom and defend the realm, surely it is for exactly such a situation, in which relatively little effort could have a massive impact. I realise that there are sensitivities, but I cannot help but think that, given some international focus, a small force—perhaps at the air base in Chad, which I understand is controlled or at least influenced by the French—could quickly clear the airspace. If one or two of its aircraft were shot down, the Sudanese army would not want to put further aircraft into the sky for fear of losing them.

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on obtaining this debate, and on quite properly and rightly keeping the focus on Sudan. On no-fly zones, I recall hearing at a meeting of the all-party group—my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) is the main person responsible for keeping that group going—that we should not push the issue too far, because negotiations were under way and we should not upset the Sudanese Government. However, given that they have gone back on everything else that they have said, does the hon. Gentleman agree that that view is not sustainable?

I totally agree that that view is not sustainable, and I shall come on to draw parallels with the Zimbabwe sanctions. As Back-Bench Members, we must speak up loudly and clearly on those issues and ask our Government to speak with a loud and clear voice, too. It is the only thing that seems to be heard and to work.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that in the face of constant denials from the Sudanese Government about their involvement from the air, it is absolutely clear that in the past, only they have had Antonov bombers and helicopter gunships, so a no-fly zone would take out of the game the only people with power from the air—the Sudanese Government?

I completely agree. It is particularly distressing that the Sudanese Government sometime fly under a United Nations banner to disguise what they are doing. Even if we cannot go the whole way and secure a no-fly zone, the European Union, NATO and the United Kingdom should lead an observation mission to see what is happening with those aircraft and how they are being used. In a previous debate, one of my hon. Friends—I think it may have been my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry)—talked about seeing planes fly off on aid missions at the same time as attack aircraft were heading off to commit atrocities. Clearly, that is a ludicrous situation.

Pursuant to the points made by right hon. and hon. Members, may I say to my hon. Friend that first, absolutely no significance whatever is to be attached to the denials ritually issued by the Sudanese Government, because they are characterised by institutional mendacity? If they are not flying over and engaging in atrocities from the air, they have no reason to fear a no-fly zone. Secondly, is my hon. Friend conscious that the British Government committed to the notion of a no-fly zone as long ago as December 2004? The idea is old news; it is a question of giving effect to it.

I very much agree, and note the issue about the United Kingdom Government’s position. Resources are stretched with our helicopters in Afghanistan and Iraq, but we can use our technical capability to provide pilots rather than aircraft. When other countries provide aircraft, we can use our engineers to keep those aircraft up and working, and we can also use international pressure and persuasion. I understand that as late as last month, Russia was prepared to offer helicopters to the zone, and Lord Malloch-Brown, who has ministerial responsibility for Africa, stated that he was following up that offer. In addition, we can back up our promise not with physical aircraft but with money to pay for aircraft, either via private companies—although I understand that there are concerns about private companies operating helicopters, and particularly about their capability—or by paying for helicopters, possibly from the Chinese and Indian armies, which are prepared to offer the physical resources but not to provide the financial backing.

My hon. Friend, along with other hon. Members, has talked about attacks from the air by aircraft, but is he aware that there is ample evidence from the people in the refugee camps of the Sudanese army delivering troops to drive them out of their villages? Aircraft are delivering troops on the ground, not just attacking from the air.

It is clear that there is a great deal of evidence of total complicity between the Sudanese Government and non-governmental organisations to the same end.

I shall turn to sanctions, because on that issue more than any other, the British Government’s words do not match their actions. On 18 July 2007, the Prime Minister said that

“we are prepared to take further sanctions against the Government”.—[Official Report, 18 July 2007; Vol. 463, c. 273.]

On 20 July 2007, he talked about the

“toughening up of sanctions that will put pressure on the regime”.

On 23 July 2007, he said that

“we are also prepared to impose further sanctions”.

On 30 July 2007, speaking at a press conference with George W. Bush, the Prime Minister said that we will have

“further sanctions if this does not happen.”

In a speech to the UN, he said that

“if any party blocks progress and the killings continue, I and others will redouble our efforts to impose further sanctions.”

On 30 August, he said that

“we will work together for further sanctions”.

There has been plenty of talk of the threat of sanctions. I could go on and on with such examples, but we have not seen any action. It is time for the British Government to act, not to talk tough.

In Zimbabwe, through the EU, we eventually imposed a number of travel sanctions. The UK was very timid about Zimbabwe, and I understand the reasons why, but accusations of our being a colonial power do not apply to Darfur and Sudan, so we encourage the Government to bring forward much more detailed sanctions and back up words with action. Having until recently been a member of the Select Committee on International Development, I am more familiar with the subject of aid logistics. There is simply not the peace or space in which to operate a strong development programme effectively. In the past three months alone, according to figures from the United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs, there have been four attacks on convoys and 18 attacks and attempted invasions of premises; three personnel from international organisations have been arrested or detained without good reason; 84 humanitarian personnel have been kidnapped; nine personnel have been physically or sexually assaulted, and three aid workers have been killed. In order for us to help the people of Darfur, the Government of Sudan must do more to help the international community and the aid community gain free movement throughout the country.

Before I talk about the role of the UN force, I shall quote the secretariat of the all-party group on Sudan, which made a telling point:

“Having more troops and armoured vehicles and helicopters will help but it will not address the fundamental problem that…a ceasefire”

cannot be sustained when the parties are determined to violate it. The secretariat went on to say that that

“cannot provide overall security for a civilian population spread across such a large area.”

We need to establish peace, but I shall leave it to other Members to discuss the internal politics of Sudan, because I do not have time to address that in my speech.

We need to do more to support the delivery of the UN force, and to stop the Sudanese Government blocking certain nations from entering the country and picking and choosing others. The force should be predominantly, but not entirely, African. Examples of basic equipment for the peacekeeping force being stuck in customs for eight to 10 weeks, and sometimes more, are wholly unacceptable. The Sudanese Government are simply trying to interfere and prevent the peacekeepers from arriving and discharging their responsibilities.

I should also like the Minister to address the issue of China. I am heartened that the Chinese have offered to provide helicopters. However, I am concerned about China’s role in Sudan, particularly in the oil industry, and I have been unable to bottom out the degree and impact of that influence. I should like the Minister to deal with five areas in her reply. On the no-fly zone, what are we going to do? On travel sanctions, will we get actions that match words? On the arms embargo, will we enforce it and extend it from Darfur to Sudan more broadly? What are we going to do to put pressure on Sudan more generally? Finally, will the Minister agree to reply more fully to the points that Aegis and the all-party group on Sudan have made?

I shall not go through all the points that Aegis made, but some are worth putting on the record. They include recommendations on the humanitarian situation such as a proposal

“to convene a donor conference…to end the bureaucratic hurdles put in the way of humanitarian agencies and NGOs…and…to ensure that no further IDPs”—

internally displaced peoples—

“are forcibly returned”.

Aegis goes on to make recommendations about the security situation. It wants to ensure that there is a monitoring regime for the “air assets” of the Sudanese army, to which I referred earlier; it wants to extend the arms embargo—another issue that I touched on earlier—and finally it recommends putting an EU force in Chad to monitor cross-border movements, which is something to which I have not referred.

Regarding the UN, Aegis wants a stop to the bureaucratic delays that prevent troops from being allowed in to contribute towards the UN force. The British Government could examine whether they could underwrite some of the helicopter costs. Finally, we must ensure that the British Government have appropriate high-level contacts with their Russian and Ukrainian counterparts about helicopter funding. I am conscious that there is so very much more to say, but I wish to leave it at that, to allow other colleagues to contribute to this very important debate.

I would like to thank the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East (James Duddridge), who is my friend in this respect, for securing this debate, because it is obviously very important that we discuss Darfur at this time. It is good to see so many friends here in Westminster Hall.

I would like to thank Chris Milner, the co-ordinator of the all-party group on Sudan, who has briefed us very well, and it is good to see representatives from the joint unit from the Foreign Office and the Department for International Development. I will say, on behalf of the Government, that the joint unit continues to invest considerable time and money and I hope that the Minister will take that as a commendation. Michael O’Neill continues to shuffle around as the special representative to Sudan and we were also fortunate to get a confidential briefing from the Minister’s friend, Lord Malloch-Brown, on some of the issues that continue to dominate any discussion of Darfur.

The background is all too awful. If anything, the current estimate of the number of people killed in Darfur is rising from the 200,000 that was talked about as a matter of course to somewhere between 200,000 and 400,000. So that is the context in which we are working.

I have two observations about general security issues. I would like to talk about the security situation and then talk about how we can hopefully pursue peace. The sad thing now is that the conflict in Darfur is increasingly a regional and proxy conflict. Certainly, we cannot talk about Darfur without including Chad as part of the conflict, so porous are the boundaries between them. We have clearly seen the antagonism between President al-Bashir and President Deby. Of course, we also have the increasingly internal complexities, which move from banditry through to localised and communal violence. That progression has made what was already an awful situation an even more difficult one to try to solve.

Unfortunately the international community has still not risen to the challenge; the hon. Gentleman made that point absolutely clear. Darfur is not Britain’s responsibility; it is the world’s responsibility. Sadly, we have yet fully to come to terms with the mistakes that we have made in the past, and we have not learned from those mistakes.

As always, and as I have already said today, my starting point is that this is not just a conflict about Darfur. Anyone who knows anything about Sudan will be worried about the comprehensive peace agreement and the way that it could be threatened by the conflict. There is a lot of evidence that, within Sudan itself, tensions within Kordofan are beginning to rise. The all-party group hopes to go to the east of Sudan sometime later this year; we are always threatening to go to the east of Sudan, but we never quite get there. There are worrying indications that the east of Sudan is not at all settled and that the situation could easily spark into conflict.

On the plus side, I welcome the Government’s support for the appointment of Sir Derek Plumbly, the retired British diplomat, to head the assessment and evaluation commission, which is charged with overseeing the comprehensive peace agreement, or CPA. We must not ever lose sight of the fact that there is a wider game going on within Sudan at the moment.

I would like to concentrate on Darfur and Chad for the moment. All the evidence is that the fighting is now worse than ever. We have a lot of evidence that the Sudanese Government are increasingly using fixed-wing aircraft, supposedly to try to deal with the insurrection on the ground. Recently, we have received information that the towns of Suleia and Sirba were completely destroyed. That type of destruction is completely new; we have seen villages razed before, but now we are seeing towns being ransacked and ravaged. The civilians are now being driven further afield, into the Jebel Moun area, where they are trapped by Government forces. We also now have evidence that both the Justice for Equality Movement, or JEM, and the Sudan Liberation Army, or SLA, are beginning to get military hardware and are bombing civilians too.

I thank the hon. Gentleman, the chairman of the all-party group on Sudan, for giving way. Would he agree that the amount of arms and support—both military and financial support—that the rebels on the ground have appears to be clear evidence that the Sudanese Government play an active part in worsening the situation, that they are financing those rebels, and that they are therefore part of the problem rather than part of the solution?

The Sudanese Government certainly are part of the problem, but, as I have said before, they have to be part of the solution. On that point, I do not know how many hon. Members saw the recent “Unreported World” programme on Channel 4, in which the programme makers went to talk to the Arab militias. Those militias clearly stated that they received their arms from the Sudanese Government. Arming them was not a great success, inasmuch as they then fought the Sudanese Government, but then again only the Sudanese could come back and join forces with the Sudanese Government. However, the important point is that the arms are coming through Khartoum, although, of course, they are mainly supplied through China, which has a key role to play.

So, on the ground the situation is pretty depressing; we cannot think otherwise. I suppose we must hold out some hope that the recent peace agreement between President al-Bashir and President Deby has some chance of success, but I would like to know what the Government are now doing to encourage the two Presidents and to explain to them that they must get a ceasefire in place and pursue an active peace. It will be interesting to see what the agreement made on 13 March can yield.

The amount of fighting on the ground is depressing in the sense that it is not at all clear who is supplying whom with arms or what the outcome of the conflict could possibly be. I well remember that, about four years ago, in the early days of the conflict, we had a visit from one of the representatives of the SLA. One never knows whether such representatives have any real link to the fighting that is going on at the front. However, Baroness Tonge and I quizzed this person on what they wanted to get out of the conflict—if they had started it—and it was not at all clear what they wanted. That is part of the problem: the objectives of the rebels and the Arab militias are not at all clear, apart from the fact that this conflict could be seen as the first water war. Therefore, to try to sue for peace is increasingly difficult.

I do not know how many hon. Members heard him, but it was good when the all-party group on China got China’s special representative to Darfur, Liu Guijin, to address us. It was good to see that, for the first time, the Chinese were at least aware of their responsibilities, and that they were less than inscrutable—in fact, they were pretty blunt—about what they felt they had to do on the ground. Whether they can do it—or indeed have already done it—would be interesting to find out, and the Government may want to say something about that.

Furthermore, we must not underestimate how important it is to see the Arab element of this conflict. We go on about the Sudan Government, and about the rebels, including the SLA, JEM and various other fragmented groups, but the Arab militias are increasingly part of the solution, as well, of course, as being a significant part of the problem. We have this phenomenon now of “jundi masrool”—my Arabic is not very good, but I am sure that Hansard will get that right—which are Arab groups, particularly around Nyala, that are threatening to attack the Government of Sudan.

I talked about the Channel 4 programme and the groups appeared on that. They are threatening to attack the Government, because they believe that they have not been compensated by Khartoum and that they have been used, misused and abused by Khartoum. It is worrying that those people are swapping sides, effectively as mercenaries, so we need to do some capacity building among the Arab groups.

When we visited last year, we attended an interesting meeting between Salim Ahmed Salim and various EU representatives, and Arab groups. It was clear that the Arabs felt that they had been left out of many of the discussions and attempts to bring the conflict to an early end. We must not give them a justification to continue fighting by allowing them to feel excluded.

We could talk endlessly about the conflict and the dire security situation, but I want to move on to some of the solutions. We must ensure that the force personnel are up to scratch, because the figures are depressing. This force should be on the ground. We have to be realistic: this will not be a duck shoot. We will need brave people to put themselves on the front line not knowing who will attack them, but if we cannot get the 26,000 personnel, we are doomed. I know that the Government cannot provide front-line forces, but they could provide genuine back-up. What are they doing to persuade the nations of the world that they must make a contribution? The hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East talked about helicopters, which are crucial, because mobility is key. People need to be moved about. I think of previous occasions, on which very brave people, particularly Nigerian peacekeepers—

I would like to thank—as we all would—my hon. Friend for his marvellous work in this field, as well as for his other parliamentary activities. Does he recall that I recently put down a question to the Ministry of Defence about helicopters? I was told that, even allowing for helicopters awaiting repair, there is a supply that could be made available, although I have not heard whether that contribution has been made. Does he feel that there is sufficient coherence across Departments for us to make the contribution that we all want to be made?

I agree. We need not only helicopters, but helicopters that will do the business, and I am a bit worried that we are searching the world for helicopters, some of which might not be fit for purpose. We need those helicopters in place soon with people to go in them. Will the Minister tell us what those figures are, what we can expect over the coming months and—dare I say it—who is paying for it? Everyone says that money is not a problem, but if that is the case, what is the problem? We need to know who is subscribing and whether they are subscribing what they said they would or whether there is a shortfall.

I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman, whom I too regard as a friend, for generously giving way. I have a distinct sense that we have seen this all before—I shall not use the French expression in this Chamber. Does he recall, that in May 2006, when Westminster Hall was temporarily relocated, he and I took part in a debate on Darfur answered by the then Secretary of State for International Development, the right hon. Member for Leeds, Central (Hilary Benn)? There was talk of the deployment of an intended 20,000-strong force, which we hoped would be fully deployed within a matter of months, and certainly by the autumn—that was in May 2006. Is it not risible that only one third of the force—at best—has been deployed 22 months later?

Of course, it is. The worry is that if we go in with lesser numbers, which I fear might happen, we will not only put people in an invidious position but put their lives in danger, which of course will be the result of further delay. Nevertheless, we need to get on with this, so I hope that the Minister will at least give us the truth, if not more positive news.

A peace process is needed to underline the efforts being made. As we know, the problem with the Darfur peace agreement was that it did not work on the ground, partly because the rebel groups were split among themselves. Some of the biggest problems on the ground are being caused by Minni Minnawi’s forces, who actually agreed with the peace deal, because apparently their people were unrewarded, and who, therefore, have been acting as a completely mercenary force. We need to know what has happened to the ceasefire and who is talking to whom. It all seems to have gone very quiet amid all the shuttling around. I know that everyone is waiting for Abdul Wahid to come out of Paris, but as far as I can see he is not going to. He might be popular in the camps, but his unwillingness to search for a ceasefire and a lasting peace is a problem.

The all-party group recommended not only that we get the security situation right, but that we continue with discussions, which have much to do with what is happening on the ground. We invented this wonderful term: the Darfur-to-Darfur dialogue and consultation. Those of us who know a lot about Ds know that it means different things to different people. However, it would be good to know how much time and money have been invested to get the various groups talking to one another. Someone has to ensure that people are willing to talk and engage with one another. There is news that Mohamed Sahnoun is being talked about as the new joint chief mediator. It would be helpful to know if somebody is in place, because at the moment it is not clear who is leading the mediation process.

I think that we all agree that we urgently need decent negotiations leading to a proper peace, but I am concerned about whether there is an incentive for the Sudanese Government to pursue peace, if they feel emboldened and wealthy enough to continue with their activities. The hon. Gentleman referred to China recognising its responsibility. Does he agree that the Chinese Government could demonstrate their acceptance of responsibility by agreeing to a trust fund with oil revenues, which otherwise would accrue to the Sudanese Government, being put in some sort escrow account until a peace is secured?

That is absolutely right, but, as the hon. Gentleman knows, there is also the Government of South Sudan, so it would be a devil of a job unpicking who gets what. Sanctions must be applied, because what else can we do? The regime in Khartoum either lives in denial for some of the time or is part of the reason that the conflict continues.

We want evidence that the United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur force can be properly subscribed to and is about to be launched properly on the ground. As we, sadly, approach the fifth birthday of the conflict, we must look at what is happening on the ground and at the political solutions that have to be found, which appear to be as far away as ever. It will come down to much effort on the part of various Governments and the fact that we must offer people money and resources to persuade them to stop fighting, which will become longer-term commitments. To those of us who visited the south last year to see what was happening, it was depressingly clear that so much of the budget goes to the military, and we must prevent that from happening in Darfur. That money must go into education, health and capacity building, not into arming the police, because we all know what the repercussions of that would be.

I am afraid that the situation is very gloomy, so I hope that the Minister will be honest in stating that we are no nearer a solution, and speak the truth so that we at least know what direction we are going in. We just have to persuade the world not to lose interest in Darfur and to get on and do what it has to do.

I shall be as quick as I can, because many other Members wish to speak. I was in Darfur at the beginning of December last year, and saw the displaced persons camp at El Fashir—there were 10,000 more people in that camp than there are in my constituency. The local governor, or walid, assured us that things were hunky dory and that there was no violence any more. He said that kidnappings were down, there were no more beatings on the ground and that everything was going in the right direction. The reality, of course, was quite different. We were told by innocent people in the camp that they were beaten up the night before by men wearing boots, which means they were Government militia.

Regarding the hon. Gentleman’s comments about the walid, he will recall that in the old days, tractor production was up in the Soviet Union.

That is on a par with the kind of assurances that we were given. What we saw was an absolute abomination. Yes, there was clean water and food and there were limited medical supplies, but the situation there should not be tolerated for much longer by anyone in the Chamber or anywhere else.

When I was there, I had the pleasure of meeting a young Nigerian army colonel who headed up the African Union force. He was quite firm about what he required, and told me that he had inadequate troop numbers at under 6,000—he obviously needed far more. He talked about the 100 camps for displaced persons in Darfur, and the lack of heavy calibre weapons and helicopters, which we have discussed. Such equipment would enable the disruption of or interference with Government militia attacks.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East (James Duddridge) on securing the debate. The point has been well made that there are only two or three roads in the whole of Darfur. Time and again, when people want to explain their inactivity, they say that Darfur is as large as France. That may be, but whether it is larger or smaller than France does not make the situation any easier on anyone’s conscience; it simply makes the point that we need aerial intervention. The young colonel said that his work could be 10 times more effective with such intervention. He also said that water is a problem in some places, as is the delay in paying mission troops, which rather surprised me.

The colonel said that the killings—or genocide, as Colin Powell described it—had subsided, but that the situation is far from happy. He referred to the UN support, including the light support package, the heavy support package and the hybrid force, and said that the situation continues to be unpredictable. There is open conflict between signatories of the comprehensive peace agreement and non-signatories, and the Janjaweed continue to operate. He said that the Government of Sudan need to remove the 6 pm flying curfew so that medical and other emergencies can be tackled. People dealing with such emergencies need to fly at night, and the Sudanese Government need to facilitate the movement of equipment and personnel, and to fast-track visas for that purpose. I asked him how long ago he had made those requests, and he replied, with a great deal of sadness, “A very long time ago.”

Following those interesting discussions in Darfur, we returned to Khartoum and met President al-Bashir who said, surprisingly, that everything is fine and that there are no real problems. We specifically asked about the air curfew and the continued beatings, but instead of answering our questions fully, he gave answers that could not be believed. It was a waste of time speaking to him. I should not say that about a person in power, but I could not care less; I believed nothing that he said. In the end, he turned on us, saying, “Who are you western politicians to interfere here? You are in favour of the escapades in Iraq and Afghanistan.” I replied that I had voted against both of those, and said that we were there to ask him questions. The responses were abominable.

The next day, we went to the National Assembly, where we heard the same accusations of interference from the west. It seems to me that they are the only people who are content with the situation. The Sudanese Government are happy for this ghastly stand-off to continue, for those operations to happen covertly and for innocent people to continue to lose their lives simply because it suits them in Khartoum. The official line is that the comprehensive peace agreement was signed and that the west offered $4.5 billion. So far, 16 per cent. of that has been paid, but the west is concerned about the treatment of people in Darfur, so there is a chicken and egg situation. That point was put to them, but they said, “No, the donor powers are in breach of their agreement to pay that money.” Why on earth should the west pay the money when the killing and displacement continues? Why should it pay those billions of dollars, and where would that money go? We were also told that non-governmental organisations were reporting far fewer car-jackings and acts of violence, but when we met the NGOs, we heard an entirely different story.

Although we need to secure a peace agreement at some point, the immediate problem that must be dealt with is that of air power and helicopters. We understand that Ukraine, Russia and even Brazil have helicopters ready. The hon. Gentleman said that if we did not provide hardware, we could provide expertise and back-up. We must urge our Government to do so, because it would save lives and ultimately make it less attractive for Khartoum to sit back and allow the ghastly and deadly stand-off to continue. As always, the ones who suffer are the innocent, and this situation is no exception.

I have kept my comments to a minimum, because much has been said already and I agree with everything that has been said. I hope that the Government will give us some assurances and will not roll out the excuse about Darfur being as big as France, which does not impress any of us. The no-fly zone in the north of Iraq was a damn sight bigger than France, but something happened there. I urge the Government to speak to international partners who are able to donate the necessary equipment, and to put in what they can as soon as possible, so that we can avoid further atrocities in that troubled land.

Christian Aid used to have a poster that said, “We believe in life before death”. I sometimes think that there could be a poster of Darfur that simply said, “There is hell on earth”. I have four questions for the Minister, which are genuine requests for information rather than an attack on her.

First, when the conflict started, it was thought to be climate-inspired, because of the desert moving across and there being insufficient grassland. There was conflict between pastoralists, who are generally of Arab background, and farmers, who are generally of black African background, which was supported by Khartoum. The suggestion now seems to be that there is a broader, regional conflict between Sudan and Chad—between al-Bashir and Deby. Is that correct? What is the view of the Foreign Office? There have been about six regional peace agreements between Chad and Sudan in almost as many years—most recently, last month—but nothing seems to come of them. Are there various groups within Darfur that are proxy groups to Sudan and Chad, or are Sudan and Chad simply supporting their own teams within Darfur?

Secondly, I want to ask about the United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur, which was set up in July 2007 under UN resolution 1769. I understand that of the 26,000 troops who were to be committed, UNAMID is still short of 15,000 African troops, primarily from the African Union. Why have they not been forthcoming? Is it simply because there is a lack of funds to pay for them, or because African countries are simply unwilling to commit those troops? There have been notable exceptions such as Nigeria, but why, in the view of the Foreign Office, is UNAMID so poorly resourced? Given that countries such as Ethiopia have offered helicopters, why has it not been possible to give UNAMID the airlift that is required? Until UNAMID is fully functional, there is no hope of having any peacekeeping mission at all, as those of us who have visited Darfur know only too well. All that one is doing is putting peacekeepers at considerable risk.

Thirdly, to what extent do we understand the agenda of groups such as the Justice and Equality Movement, and the Sudan Liberation Army? More and more actors and players are appearing on the stage, but there is increasing incoherence. To what extent do we know what they want to achieve? That takes me to my fourth question, which is about process. Clearly, two processes need to be pursued. One involves a ceasefire and peacekeeping, which is largely dependent on UNAMID, and requires peacekeepers on the ground and ensuring that there are no aerial attacks on villages and so on. The other process involves moving towards a peaceful solution. There has been some UN mediation, but it seems to have broken down, largely because people thought that there was no proper process or that they were being given unrealistic deadlines. There are a couple of mediators whom some factions do not particularly like, and it seems that there is now no process at all.

It would be helpful to hear from the Foreign Office what is being done under UN auspices in respect of a peace process that will help to resolve the issue and lock in all the various players. We all know that, sooner or later, that has to happen. It happened painfully in Somalia, where it took a long time to make any progress. The longer we go without any kind of peace process and without trying to oblige people to take part in it, the more the situation in Darfur and the surrounding area will fracture and become increasingly difficult. I would welcome the Foreign Office’s views on those four points. This is one of those tragic conflicts that are progressively getting worse rather than better.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East (James Duddridge) on triggering this debate, because while there is much television coverage of what is happening in Tibet just now, it appears, sadly, that many television crews have left Darfur. There is not enough concentration on that conflict, so I congratulate him on raising it today. I shall return to the issue of Chinese involvement—I was glad that the hon. Gentleman raised it—because I believe that the Chinese Government have an important part to play in finding a solution to some of the problems in Darfur.

It has been a while since I was last in Darfur, but the images in my mind and the memories of the men, women and children who are suffering in that God-forsaken land are as clear as ever. I hope that they will stay with me until peace unfolds and the children who have never known peace are allowed to have a childhood of their own. As many Members have said, all the ingredients for disaster are present in Darfur: poverty, hunger, disease, corruption, conflict, too many guns, the impact of global warming on pastoralists and local farmers, outside interference, religious and ethnic disputes and much more.

However, in most countries where a disaster unfolds, the Government normally search for a solution. In this case, the Government are at the heart of the problem. I shall not repeat what has already been said by many Members, but the Sudanese Government must be brought into discussions, whether through a peace agreement or through countries continuing to push for sanctions and a strengthened force on the ground to deliver peace. As the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) said, the scale of refugee camps is absolutely stunning. When I visited Nyala, there were 120,000 people there—more people than are in my entire constituency. Villages are still being bombed from the air and abandoned, and people are being intimidated on the ground.

A solution to the problem has been debated on several occasions in this Hall and in the main Chamber, but I wish quickly to run through a few points in the time that I have. First, I ask the Minister for an update on progress towards full implementation of the ill-fated comprehensive peace agreement. No one here today will be expecting particularly encouraging news, but it is important to ensure that an agreement remains a priority for the international community. Clearly, the deadline diplomacy that brokered the last agreement has not achieved as much as we would have liked, and it is important that we recognise why that is the case.

Neighbouring countries such as Chad are now part of the problem. It is a regional problem, not just a Darfur problem. We heard earlier about the peacekeeping force that is required, and I remember speaking to African Union peacekeepers who said that they needed extra forces on the ground, extra support and helicopters because, as has been said several times—it is no excuse—Darfur on its own, let alone whole of Sudan, is massive. As was mentioned by the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew), we see hot spots elsewhere in Sudan. The peace in areas such as the south, which has been calmed down in the past, is fragile, and we fear that similar problems will erupt in the east and in other regions of Sudan.

I alluded in my introductory remarks to the number of guns. This Government can play an important part in ensuring that we play no part in contributing to the volume of arms that find their way into Sudan, whether through arms deals or through neighbouring countries. There is real concern about the number of export licences that we grant in this country for small arms that are imported and re-exported. I remember raising a question with several Government Departments about that. We re-exported more than 2 million small arms in one year—in 2005-06. I asked several Government Departments where those small arms went, but nobody could give me an answer. I do not expect that the Minister will be able to give me an answer today, but I suggest that she look into the issue of small arms that are imported to the UK and then re-exported. They are not ending up, we hope, in the UK, so they are probably ending up in conflict zones around the world. If she could look into that and get more information, I would be glad to hear from her.

The humanitarian situation is an absolute disaster. Perhaps the most disturbing aspect is the one to which I alluded in my opening remarks; namely, the impact of the conflict on the children of Sudan. So far, 1.8 million children have been affected by the conflict, with 1 million displaced and 800 unaccounted for. Those who have been displaced are now spending their formative years in camps and, understandably, are traumatised by what they have seen. The threat of kidnapping and enforced servitude as child soldiers is never far away, and the dearth of educational opportunities is clearly jeopardising the future prospects of millions. A generation is growing up who will have known only war, and, unless we act now, it may prove a difficult habit to break.

I am sure the Minister will agree that one of the most keenly learned lessons from Sierra Leone is that any successful move towards post-conflict peace-building must have at its core the needs and aspirations of the next generation or risk being hamstrung from the start. I would welcome the Minister’s thoughts on what we can do to help the children of Darfur and to give them hope for a brighter future. They should be given hope. Although they cannot live on hope alone, we should ensure that they do have hope for the future.

I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say. Nothing has been said by any Member with which I disagree, but we cannot come back in six months, a year, two years or five years and say that we debated this matter in April 2008—tragically, on April fools’ day. We would be fools if we were to come back in years to come but nothing had moved on. We must see progress on this matter.

I am delighted to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West (John Barrett) in this important debate. It has been brief but passionate. I add my congratulations to the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East (James Duddridge) on securing this debate and on introducing it in a comprehensive fashion. We have had telling contributions and interventions from Members on both sides of the Chamber. We heard from the right hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Mr. Clarke) and the hon. Member for Buckingham (John Bercow), and we know that many in the House care passionately about the situation. Perhaps the Minister will suggest through the usual channels that the time has come once again for a debate in the main Chamber, where more Members would be able to participate, and where we could discuss a broader range of questions and issues.

Sometimes parliamentary format and the very architecture of this Room bring measured tones and the discipline of debate but strip out the passion and anguish. Today, we managed to rise above and beyond that.

I am conscious that we are five years into this terrible carnage. I have been struck by the references so far to the people who have been killed—the estimates have now doubled from those that we have been used to quoting for some years—and by the numbers of displaced people and those in camps. That should be related to the parts of the world that we represent to show the enormity of the catastrophe that has unfolded year after year in Sudan and particularly in Darfur.

It is important that the Minister has a full opportunity to answer the many questions that have been asked, so I will focus on two or three main points and allow the Conservative Opposition spokesman to speak before she does so.

We must never lose sight of the sheer scale of what is going on or of the efforts of the Sudanese Government to make it worse: it is not simply about their containing the situation or making it better; as others have observed, they are actually colluding or directly involved in making the situation worse. We have all been approached by the non-governmental organisations—the charities and aid agencies—stressing that their key workers are under attack when trying to deliver water and food and trying just to make their own lives secure. The compounds of those who are there to help are being attacked by militias and others.

There is a chronic shortage of essential equipment. The UN has to reach some 400,000 people by air, yet we read that its humanitarian air service has funding only for another month. I hope that the Minister can assure us about the long-term funding of that essential service, without which a huge number of displaced people and refugees will go hungry and be in an even worse condition than at present.

More broadly, we read in the Financial Times and elsewhere in recent days of the chronic problems facing the World Food Programme, which urgently needs another £250 million for its worldwide programme or else it will be forced to implement rationing. That is inconceivable. I hope that, in response to the undoubted problems with commodity and fuel prices and shipping costs, Britain and other European partners will be taking the lead in responding to the World Food Programme’s concerns.

Colleagues have already mentioned the military situation in Sudan, particularly the lack of numbers and the slow handover from the African Union Mission in Sudan to the United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur. Although we have a better mandate now—there is not just a monitoring process, but a duty to protect—the numbers are pathetic. Even if the full force were to get to 26,000 it would be barely credible, but we are dealing with less than half of that. Again, I appreciate that there are frustrating, difficult issues to get round in the world of diplomacy, but I hope that the Minister will demonstrate some sense of urgency in respect of how this matter is being tackled. In particular, she has been asked to respond to the issue of helicopters, which was raised at the Foreign Office questions last month by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) and many other hon. Members. I hope that she will be able to report some progress to us today.

The Sudanese wish to obstruct just about everything that we try to do. Surely, in response, we must tighten our grip on them and tighten the sanctions that are there. The United Nations adopted the duty to protect as part of its raison d’être—to use French where the hon. Member for Buckingham (John Bercow) avoided doing so earlier—and although we can see the most obvious example of our need to step up and do just that, we are failing. The recent reports from the Secretary-General to the Security Council were as depressing as anything else reported here today. A chapter 7 resolution was finally passed last summer. All necessary means can be used, but, my goodness, we are not defining that in very good terms at present. That is something of a sick joke.

The United Kingdom has an opportunity; it chairs the Security Council in May. I hope that we will see serious diplomatic initiatives to extend the asset freezes that are already in place, but which are limited, extend the travel bans and look hard at the arms embargo. My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West made an important point about Britain's role in small arms. Whether that issue is linked to Darfur, surely we should be looking a lot harder at what is going on.

To the list of crimes that fully justify the comprehensive sanctions against the Government of Sudan that the hon. Gentleman rightly seeks, might I add one other item? It is true that the numbers of people in the camps have ballooned in the three years since the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West, my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) and I visited camps in Darfur. However, is there not another difficulty, which is that, in some cases, the Government of Sudan are organising forced, involuntary returns that are highly dangerous? The United Nations circulated a memo complaining about this last November. It is another example of a breach of human rights law by the Government of Sudan for which it should be indicted.

I agree. Since the hon. Gentleman has raised that issue, we might highlight the complete lack of progress in getting hold of the two individuals who should be before the International Criminal Court but are not—and there are surely others to whom that should be extended.

Hon. Members have properly drawn attention to China's role. We must give China credit for recognising that there are problems in the area: it has appointed an envoy for Africa, who has taken interest in this matter and its support was crucial in getting resolution 1769 passed last year. But, frankly, that is not enough. I hope that the Government will ensure that, in this year of the Olympics, when China is learning that it has to face out to the world and deal with the world not just in respect of Tibet, it learns that its role in Sudan and Darfur matters as well.

I hope that today we can learn something of European efforts to bolster the mediation led by the AU and the UN and about our role in what other hon. Members have rightly mentioned is in danger of being a regional conflict. Darfur might only be the start of something. That is too awful to contemplate. We must ensure that we are doing all that is necessary.

Famously or infamously, the former Prime Minister, Mr. Blair, said that Africa was a scar on the conscience of the world and in Darfur we see one of its bleakest realities. It is a horrible situation. The response so far has been feeble. There really is a requirement to act now.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend, East (James Duddridge) on securing this debate. He spoke movingly about the situation in Darfur, but the most important thing that he said was that it was time for action rather than words.

All hon. Members have a great interest in this matter; many have been to Darfur and have spoken passionately about it, going back three or four years. There is a great welling up of frustration. As the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) said, there is frustration that the international community has failed to come up with a coherent, sustainable response to a disaster on a vast scale in the immediate area that may be tipping over into a vast regional catastrophe, as the hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (Mr. Moore), the Liberal Democrat spokesman, and others have said.

We should put on the record our praise for individuals and organisations, both at home and in the area, who have worked tirelessly. It must be incredibly frustrating to be an official, either in the Department for International Development or the Foreign Office, having to deal with this matter, let alone the individuals who bravely act on the ground. This is one of those disasters where the celebs come in, have a quick concert with some of the more up-market members of the media and move on to the next disaster. It is left to a lot of other people to sort it out.

In fairness, can I point out that some celebrities have had a long-term commitment to the region? I would not want the hon. Gentleman to think otherwise. Mia Farrow, for instance, has taken up this issue for many years.

The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. There are also some people in the media with a long-term interest. But we all know that all too often the caravan moves on.

As far as the international community is concerned, whatever the sheer practicalities—I shall not go over them again, but we should not underestimate the difficulties—its efforts have been a monstrous failure. If such a situation had recurred in China, Russia or the EU it would not be tolerated.

As all hon. Members have pointed out, the main responsibility for the overall situation in Darfur lies with the Sudanese Government. I know that, as at least one hon. Member has pointed out, we are incredibly vulnerable in this country in pulling our punches with regard to the situation not only in Darfur, but in Zimbabwe because of a colonial guilt complex. It is easy for many obnoxious regimes to say that a situation is due to the activities of former colonial powers, or to tell us to look at what we are doing in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The time has come to ignore such comments and not to allow that attitude to get in the way of what I believe is a noble enterprise, not just by this country and our allies, but by many African countries. The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) rightly pointed out the magnificent role of, for example, the Nigerian armed forces, and I do not think we should apologise.

The problem is what to do about a Sudanese Government that blocks the deployment of troops from Norway and Sweden, continues to withhold clearance for other contingents, has not yet fully approved the allocation of land and facilities for UN peacekeepers, and has impounded vital equipment, including armoured personnel carriers, for up to two months in customs. That action is not against individual countries; it is in direct defiance of the United Nations, which must do something about it.

I want to focus my comments on the role of the British Government and the Prime Minister. The Minister may think that I am trying to be partisan, but I happen to believe in an old fashioned thing called political leadership. I also happen to believe that such complex problems often take years to resolve. Jonathan Powell has written a book, “Great Hatred, Little Room”, about making peace in Northern Ireland, and, going back to the time of John Major, I have been struck by the fact that it often takes years of very hard work to get some solution, and it takes time to keep that up at a high level of priority.

The Prime Minister, with much fanfare, launched with the French an action plan for Darfur, and last July he said that it was

“the greatest humanitarian disaster the world faces today.”

He put forward an action plan of elements, which I shall go through quickly. The first is to secure a UN resolution mandating the deployment of a UN-African Union force. Yes, we have achieved that. The second is that once the UN resolution is passed we should be prepared together to go to Darfur to ensure that the peace process is moving forward. That has not yet happened. The third is to work for an immediate ceasefire on the ground and a cessation of violence. That has not yet been achieved. The fourth is to be prepared to contribute substantial sums of economic support as soon as a ceasefire makes it possible for us to achieve economic development in the area. That has not been achieved.

It is easy to for an Opposition spokesman to stand on the sidelines and play touchlinitis, but I would not play the ball that way. However, some of us in Opposition face the intriguing prospect that perhaps in 18 months we may have to deal with the matter for real. The fact is that if a Prime Minister makes a genuine commitment, he must be held to account for that, and we went through this three or four years ago. If the Prime Minister cannot deliver, he should not make such promises.

Finally, this is what my party believes must be achieved, and it pulls together the points made by a number of hon. Members. There should be further UN and EU sanctions if the Sudanese Government continue to restrict the full deployment of the UN force and the credible threat of sanctions now. There should be a major diplomatic drive to secure additional helicopters. I understand that at the NATO summit in Bucharest, the Prime Minister in the margins will have to try to get some helicopters from central and eastern European Members of NATO. There should be an arms embargo to cover the whole of Sudan. It is no good having an embargo just in the Darfur area; there must be a blanket embargo throughout Sudan. There should be a no-fly zone in Darfur. There should be support for the International Criminal Court in prosecuting Sudanese officials. Those ghastly people must understand that if they step outside Sudan they will be lifted in no uncertain terms.

The Prime Minister must to fulfil his pledge to put Darfur at the top of his foreign policy priorities. He believes passionately in that, so he must grip it and drive it through. At the end of the day, that is what leadership is all about, and his right hon. Friend the previous Prime Minister demonstrated that when he established the peace process in Northern Ireland.

I also congratulate the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East (James Duddridge) on securing this important debate, and on the way in which he introduced it. I have received the Aegis Trust’s briefing, and I give a commitment that if I am unable to respond to any issues and questions in the time available, I will respond in writing to the hon. Gentleman and place a copy of my letter in the Library so that all hon. Members may see it.

The turnout for this relatively short debate demonstrates the real concern in all parties about the dreadful situation, and I know that many other hon. Members share those concerns.

I thank the Minister for her courtesy in responding to the Aegis Trust’s briefing. I am not sure whether she has received the briefing from the all-party group on Sudan, which also makes a series of recommendations. If she has, perhaps she would consider extending her courtesy to replying to the issues raised in that document?

Indeed, I shall.

Before going into the details, may I assure all hon. Members that this matter is a priority for the Government? There is a great deal of activity, but I may not be able to report all of it this morning. My noble Friend, Lord Malloch-Brown, who is the Minister for Africa, gives great priority to the issue in everything that he does.

I shall set out the context to which some hon. Members have referred, and perhaps they will forgive me if I do not refer specifically to them. It is important that I answer questions as fully as I can.

For more than 20 years, north and south Sudan have fought a vicious civil war with an estimated 2 million people having been killed, and many having been injured with untold numbers of women being raped. Many hundreds of thousands of people have been forced from their homes and villages to flee to wherever they thought they would be safe. The international community has tried to build the necessary confidence to make peace. In 2005, a fragile peace was put in place with the signing of the comprehensive peace agreement. Although the peace has held, lack of political will and trust on both sides has caused the agreement to falter. We are pressing everyone to continue implementing the comprehensive peace agreement. We support the census, which is due later this month, and which should lead to national elections in 2009. Those elections could change the future of Sudan, but if the comprehensive peace agreement fails, there will be little hope for peace.

The UN has described the Darfur conflict as the greatest humanitarian crisis in the world, and we have seen the shocking pictures on our televisions. Thousands of people have been killed, raped or wounded; more than 2 million people have been forced from their homes and more than 4 million are dependent on international aid for food and basic needs. As we feared, the conflict has spilled over into Chad. There are 290,000 Darfuri refugees in Chad, and 180,000 Chadians have been forced to flee their homes. The recent fighting in west Darfur and the failed February coup in Chad graphically showed how the stability of the entire region is at risk.

Since the conflict first began, the UK has worked to end the tragedy. We are the second largest bilateral humanitarian donor to Sudan. Since April 2004, we have given £158 million to Darfur for humanitarian aid, and we have supported the implementation of an agreement between the Government of Sudan and the UN to allow full humanitarian access for non-governmental organisations in Darfur.

In addition, we have supported the African Union peacekeeping mission in Darfur by providing £73 million for airlift and equipment. When it became clear that that force was not enough, we secured a UN resolution mandating a new AU-UN peacekeeping force. UNAMID took authority on 31 December 2007. We have just given £4 million to support the training and the equipping of African troop-contributing countries and we are providing military, planning, expertise and staff officers. We have committed £5 million to the Darfur Community Peace and Stability Fund. That allows for recovery and reconciliation when local security permits and when local leaders are committed to a political dialogue.

We in the UK cannot resolve the issue, but we can help the international work and seek to build consensus. We have encouraged China to play a more positive role in Sudan. The Prime Minister raised the matter during his visit to China in January. Recently, China has made more critical comments. We want China to use its considerable influence in Khartoum to play a constructive role and to do more on the comprehensive peace agreement. In February, Ministers from the Department for International Development and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office agreed with the Chinese special envoy for Africa key objectives in Sudan to accelerate UNAMID deployment, re-energise the political process for Darfur and support the implementation of the comprehensive peace agreement. The Foreign Secretary reinforced those messages during his visit to China at the end of February. We have also repeatedly made it clear to China that given its reliance on Sudanese oil it is in its interest for Sudan to be peaceful.

Europe is also more focused on Sudan and Chad. The European peacekeeping force has started to deploy to Chad. We are working with the French Government; the Prime Minister and President Sarkozy agreed last week to step up efforts. We have worked in the Security Council to build consensus and to take tough action if the rebels and the Government of Sudan do not meet their commitments. As hon. Members well know, that has not been enough. Some hon. Members raised the issue of a no-fly zone, but we have real concerns that that would restrict UN and NGO operations and that there would be a real risk of their aircraft being hit and humanitarian aid not getting through. There are clear logistical problems and too few air assets to monitor air activity over Darfur.

I have heard what the Minister has just said. Nobody has ever suggested that the establishment of a no-fly zone would be absolutely simple, but the balance of argument previously was always in favour, and the Government themselves seemed to be in favour. I get the distinct sense that that position has now changed.

We are concerned for the reasons that I have set out. The feasibility work that has been carried out indicates those particular problems. As regards the current situation, I am assured that significant problems exist, and that is what the Prime Minister himself said when he was asked about the matter recently.

We will continue to support the people of Darfur by helping the humanitarian agencies do their work. We will continue to help build an effective peacekeeping force. Although the first troops are now in place, I share hon. Members’ frustration with the slow progress. Clearly, the recent fighting has created further problems in relation to that. The force currently comprises 10,500 people, including 7,500 military, 1,800 police and 1,300 civilians. Full deployment will be 19,500 military, 6,500 police and 5,500 civilians. We never expected troops to be fully deployed by the 31 December 2007 when authority was transferred to UNAMID, but we recognise the need for the Government of Sudan to do more to facilitate the deployment.

We welcome the signing of status of forces agreement early in February. That should resolve issues over visas, customs and freedom of movement. We expect to see the Government of Sudan fully co-operating with the AU-UN. Recent progress has taken place on the ground. It may not sound a great deal, but it is incredibly important to the people in the camps. There has been an increase in firewood patrols to enable people to get firewood to cook and an increase in policing. In February, following the fighting in west Darfur, UNAMID escorted NGOs which were providing aid.

Will the Minister tell us how many of those troops and police will be women? One of the saddest aspects of the events in Darfur is the particular way in which violence against women has been used as a weapon of war.

My hon. Friend raises a very powerful point. May I discuss that information later, when I respond to the issues that I do not get to today?

Egyptian and Bangladeshi troops should have deployed in March. The Ethiopian and Egyptian infantry battalions will deploy in April and May, followed by Thai and Nepalese battalions. There will be ongoing deployment of infantry battalions throughout 2008. Full deployment is unlikely before the end of 2008. We will continue to press the AU and UN to appoint a single chief mediator for the political process. I cannot stress too highly how important it is to have the process in place because it is the key to peace in the region. The mediator must be someone who is able to help unify the differing rebel factions into an effective negotiating group. We will continue to work for a cessation of hostilities with monitoring mechanisms that allow the international community to take action when and if it is breached. The UN arms embargo needs to encompass all of Sudan to match the EU’s embargo. I can reassure hon. Members that we regard the UN arms embargo as important and we will push for it.

The issue of the wider region was raised. The war between north and south Sudan and the rebel uprising in Darfur were caused by marginalisation. The Government in Khartoum failed to meet their people’s needs. That was exacerbated by climate change and regional interference. One hon. Member asked what the Darfur rebels wanted. They want a fair share of the oil wealth and power sharing for Darfur. Others want regime change in Khartoum and there are also some general concerns about the rebels.

As regards the Dakar agreement, which my hon. Friend raised, we are supporting the international contact group that has been set up to monitor the agreement and we are calling on both Governments to adhere to the agreement. The international community must make it clearer to the Government of Sudan and the rebels that they have a choice; they can co-operate with the AU and the UN, end the violence, bring those who have committed atrocities to justice and allow humanitarian workers to operate freely and securely or they must face the consequences. We are ready to impose tougher sanctions and we will press the Security Council to join us to take action against them. There will be no impunity for war crimes through the international criminal court.

Last June, during a debate on the situation in Darfur, the then Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, Central (Hilary Benn) asked a simple question that we must still ask today.

“When are we going to live up to the fine and inspiring words of the UN declaration of human rights? Let me remind the House of what it says. ‘Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people’.”—[Official Report, 5 June 2007; Vol. 461, c. 228.]

The people of Darfur have suffered too long and the international community must live up to those words.

Daresbury Science and Innovation Campus

I would like to put on record my thanks to Mr. Speaker for granting this important debate on the future of science in the north-west. Daresbury laboratory—now the Daresbury science and innovation campus—in my constituency has been delivering world-class science for 40 years and has contributed to Britain being at the international forefront of accelerator science research.

In 2000-01, Daresbury faced a problem. The Government made the stupid decision to locate Diamond, the successor to the synchrotron radiation source that had been developed at Daresbury, at Rutherford Appleton. Daresbury therefore faced the challenge of finding a new project to ensure that it remained at the forefront of international science. The purpose of this debate is not to look back over the decision that has already been made—although I will refer to some of the consequences of it later—but to consider what can be done to secure the future for Daresbury laboratory in the post-synchrotron radiation source era.

In 2001, the Government set up the north-western Daresbury science group, which considered what could be done to design a new project for Daresbury laboratory in the future. It came up with a concept called the fourth generation light source, which involved fantastic world-leading scientific research that was internationally recognised. We were hopeful that that would take the future of the laboratory forward. In 2006, we were very pleased when the Government published the document, “Science & Innovation Investment Framework 2004-2014”, in which they stated in support of the objectives that

“the Government has decided that the Harwell site, which includes RAL, and the Daresbury site should become the Harwell and Daresbury Science and Innovation Campuses respectively. The Government will look to develop these campuses so as to ensure that the facilities located here are internationally competitive, support world-class science, and maximise opportunities for knowledge transfer. Work is being commissioned to explore how they should be delivered in practice”.

That was a vote of confidence in the future of Daresbury laboratory and is an important document. I hope that the Minister will repeat what his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has said and reaffirm that that is still the Government’s position. That announcement was recognised by Daresbury laboratory as a very positive statement about its future.

We also welcome the Government’s announcements in December last year and January this year that Daresbury science and innovation campus will continue its high-performance computing accelerator and detector research at the Cockcroft Institute and the Harwell centre. The Cockcroft Institute is a joint international venture on accelerator science and technology, and is a commitment to the future of Daresbury laboratory. The project is led brilliantly by its director, Swapan Chattopadhyay, who is an internationally renowned scientist who came from Berkeley in America to Daresbury because of the work that was promised. That was a coup as it meant that there was a brain drain in reverse: a world-class scientist came to Britain to do their work. It was another signpost that Daresbury laboratory had a real future.

We are pleased about the work on international computational science that will take place at Daresbury. That is another vote of confidence. We welcome the McKillop review, which will explore the current and potential contribution of the Daresbury campus to science and innovation in the city region. The review will also consider how the campus can be retained as one of national and international significance, which is very important.

I do not want to pre-empt what the Minister might say today or in the near future, but we also look forward to Government announcements on investments in Daresbury from the large facilities capital fund. We have two excellent innovation buildings at Daresbury, both of which are full. We need to build a third one and perhaps even a fourth one after that so that innovation at Daresbury goes from strength to strength. If Daresbury is to succeed as the Government’s document suggests, and if the Government’s stated aim that it will be a world-leading scientific research facility and innovation campus is to be achieved, we need a research facility of international repute at Daresbury that will underpin the science and make sure that the whole laboratory has a future.

I have referred to 4GLS—the fourth generation light source. Late last year, the scientific community received a bombshell when the new Science and Technology Facilities Council decided to abandon 4GLS and set up a new light source review. The new light source review’s four X-ray and laser scientists have said that 4GLS should involve lasers. There is no surprise in that, but there is a concern that the four scientists were not capable of scientific impartiality in determining what the future next generation light source should consist of, because they did not have any expertise in light source research. The final report of the international advisory committee on 4GLS stated that it strongly supported the delivery of the science originally deployed by 4GLS. It gave it a vote of confidence, and in relation to accelerator science stated:

“We strongly believe capabilities similar to those originally designed into the 4GLS system are the minimum necessary to propel the UK community into a leadership role in Europe and beyond”.

It was unequivocal that 4GLS is the way forward and the way in which we will stay at the forefront of international research in accelerator science. That is the research that will need to be done if Britain intends to stay at the forefront of that field, and I hope that the Minister will be able to reaffirm that message.

The new light source project that will be announced on 11 April will be led by two internationally renowned scientists: one from Imperial college London and one from Oxford. If the Minister wants to send a positive message to Daresbury about its future, that project would also include a scientist from the north-west who has expertise in light source science and research. That would say to the community that when the Government decide what they will do in relation to the next generation light source, they will take all aspects of that field of research into account. That would send a message to the north-west that the Government recognise the region’s expertise in that field and believe that it has the quality, the staff and the ability to provide somebody who can head up the new project. That would send a positive message to Daresbury laboratory, to the scientists and academics in the north-west and to those who are concerned about the economy in the region.

During the past six years, when the decision was made to go ahead with 4GLS at Daresbury, a prototype has been developed called the Linac project. The name has now changed to ALICE—accelerators and lasers in combined experiments. The problem is that although the Science and Technology Facilities Council is committed to ensuring that ALICE can be developed to demonstrate energy recovery, it has decided not to fund it beyond energy recovery being proven. That does not exploit the potential of ALICE or contribute towards Britain being able to lead the world in accelerator science. Nor does it fulfil what scientists expect of the Science and Technology Facilities Council in that area.

We need a commitment from the STFC not only in relation to proving the energy recovery of ALICE, but in relation to fully exploiting the prototype. That means investing more money into the project and working with the Northwest Regional Development Agency, which has committed £30 million to the project already. That is essential because it will give us the possibility of a new light source, and whatever the new light source is called it will be based on 4GLS. It has been developed at Daresbury and the staff are at Daresbury. If it is exploited to the full, it will retain scientific staff at Daresbury and will provide the piece of the jigsaw that ensures that we still have science and innovation on the campus. It is essential that that project is exploited to the full and that Daresbury is used to make that exploitation possible, because that will retain the scientific staff at the laboratory who will underpin the concept set out in the investment programme for 2004-14. That will send a clear message that the Government believe that regions such as the north-west are entitled to have world-leading science and that they are behind that concept.

Daresbury laboratory has another problem. If ALICE is fully funded and the commitment to the staff to retain pure research science at Daresbury is delivered on, that will no doubt secure the laboratory’s future, but the staff have taken a hard knock since the decisions on redundancies were announced last December. There is a feeling at the laboratory, which I share, that they do not have a powerful voice on the STFC advocating on their behalf. There are many scientists from Oxford, with powerful voices, advocating for the Oxford golden circle or golden triangle—call it what one likes—but Daresbury does not have an equivalent voice.

The Minister could send another positive message today by saying that a person will be appointed to the STFC specifically to advocate for Daresbury. That would send the staff a positive message that somebody at the highest level is speaking out on their behalf. They could then have confidence in decisions made in the future about the new light source and the future of the science and technology campus.

My hon. Friend is making strong and pertinent remarks and I support him wholeheartedly on this issue. Does he agree that the STFC has been extremely poor at consulting and communicating with Daresbury?

I agree entirely. I want to mention a specific problem about consultation of Daresbury, because it all seems to be done outside. The worst thing about all this is the rumour mill, and I have a good example. When the STFC said that it had an £80 million shortfall in its £1.9 billion budget over three years, and that it would call for 25 per cent. staff cuts and 25 per cent. cuts in project grants to fill what is a very small funding gap, if one exists at all, it was feared at Daresbury laboratory that 350 jobs would go. Compulsory redundancies have been called for at Daresbury laboratory but not at the two other sites covered by the STFC. Those compulsory redundancies relate to the running of the synchrotron radiation source, which we accept will finish at the end of this year; the run-down will start in September. Only 110 people are working on the synchrotron radiation source, but we are now told that 180 jobs must go.

My profound wish and hope is that there will be no compulsory redundancies at Daresbury laboratory and that, as a result of decisions that the Government and the STFC can take, more jobs will be secured at Daresbury to underpin the critical mass of scientists needed to ensure that we deliver the science at the laboratory.

Will the hon. Gentleman confirm whether there will be no jobs lost, no compulsory redundancies or no redundancies at Daresbury? Which of the three, or which combination of the three, is it?

The hon. Gentleman would do better to direct that question to the Minister. In case this was not clear, I point out that the STFC is calling for 180 job losses at Daresbury relating directly to the running of the synchrotron radiation source, which will end in September to December of this year. When the synchrotron radiation source goes, those jobs will be surplus to requirements. I am pressing the Minister to try to ensure that there are no compulsory redundancies and that we retain as many scientists as possible at Daresbury, so that there is a critical mass of scientists able to deliver the new light source when decisions on that are made and when the decision for it to be at Daresbury is made. That is the point.

I am asking for three things. We need a fourth generation light source scientist heading the new light source review with the two scientists from Oxford and Imperial college. We need a commitment that ALICE—that wonderful facility—will be fully funded and fully exploited. It is a unique research facility and it would be a travesty if British science was not allowed to exploit it to the full. We also need a commitment about retaining staff at Daresbury laboratory and a voice on the STFC advocating for Daresbury.

For the record, the Minister has been generous in the time that he has given to colleagues from the north-west. Those Members are represented here today: my hon. Friends the Members for Warrington, South (Helen Southworth), for Warrington, North (Helen Jones), for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs. Ellman) and for Eccles (Ian Stewart). My hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Andrew Miller) has also been involved in lobbying the Minister and the Secretary of State. We have also lobbied the Prime Minister. We have been fully supported by my close and hon. Friend the Member for Halton (Derek Twigg). We are committed to ensuring that Daresbury laboratory or Daresbury science and innovation campus has a future, both as a pure research facility and as an innovation campus. Today, we seek a positive message from the Government that they share that vision and will protect the laboratory and ensure that it delivers another 40 years of world-leading scientific research.

A Northwest Regional Development Agency press release that I chanced across the other day, dated 2003, states:

“The scientific future of Daresbury has been given a major boost, thanks to two significant announcements from the Northwest Development Agency…and the Department of Trade and Industry…The NWDA are pleased to announce funding of £25.7 million in order to develop Daresbury’s Science Park, securing its future as a centre of excellence for scientific research and development. The DTI have also given the go-ahead for the research, development and design phases of the world-class…Fourth Generation Light Source…These developments will make a major contribution to the economic development of the region, providing opportunities to secure inward investment and spin-outs of companies to link with Daresbury. Following on from recent decisions to embed Europe’s most powerful academic research computer and the world’s most powerful microscope at the Laboratory, Daresbury’s future could not be brighter.”

In the same press release, Lord Sainsbury says:

“This is an important step towards placing Daresbury at the cutting edge of accelerator science. The 4th generation light source would provide scientists with a first-class facility to conduct vital experiments in many disciplines. Its potential capability is unique in the world, and its capacity to combine a wide range of experiments would establish the UK as a major international player in this technology.”

I would like to give a few key facts that put that in context. Daresbury should be in a very enviable position now, because it should have got the Diamond synchrotron, the particle accelerator, which would have been a £382 million investment in Daresbury. It did get the £21.3 million investment in Linac and the promise of the fourth generation light source. Why did it not get the synchrotron? A National Audit Office report on big science projects makes it crystal clear that the economic benefits relating to the particle accelerator were far greater in the north-west than anywhere else, and than where it actually went in the Oxford area. The reasons why it went there are predominantly cultural. Scientists at Oxford or certain key academics would not forsake the leafy environment of Oxford for the rougher area of Cheshire. There was also direct pressure from the Wellcome Trust, which clearly also felt that it would be a little bit hazardous to go up north. There was no doubt, at the time the proposal was considered, that the physics base in the north-west—in Manchester, Liverpool and further afield—was very strong and capable of supporting such a venture.

However, if we look at the fourth generation light source as a consolation prize, it has to be said that it was, on the face of it, a good one. The NAO said of the project that the level and form of engagement with industry—

The fourth generation light source was not a consolation prize for Daresbury laboratory. It will now be the leading project in terms of linear accelerator science. It is not a second prize at all; it is a real prize for the laboratory.

It would be amazing if it turned out as we hoped; and it would be a major plus for the north-west. However, it is apparent to me that things will not turn out as expected.

The NAO praised the project and used positive terms, which the hon. Gentleman will welcome, and said that the project provides a

“Level and form of engagement with industry”.

That is crucial for the north-west because we need industry and jobs. It is ironic, in retrospect, that the NAO said that the project has

“Flexibility and adaptability to cost pressures”.

Because of that, one felt that the project would go ahead no matter what the economic climate. The Northwest Regional Development Agency, to its credit, has persistently emphasised that the key need in the north-west is high-quality jobs—a better quality of job than is widely available in many parts of the north-west—and not simply jobs. Key science fixtures obviously help in that regard. It now seems that there is a doubt about the consolation prize.

I am listening to the hon. Gentleman with interest, but does he recognise that the international advisory committee, which reviewed the 4GLS project and reported in February of this year, described it as world-class science?

Yes, and we would be glad to see world-class funding associated with it.

I am less than impressed at what the Minister has had to say on the matter. He stated:

“The Council has confirmed that key staff at Daresbury will be involved in developing a proposal for a next generation light source, and it is developing plans for further developments of joint ventures and further public investment on the campus”.

In the same letter, which was sent to all north-west Members, he states:

“You will see in particular that the STFC is committed to retaining key scientific and technology expertise on the campus, and wishes to expand that expertise”.

I read that carefully for hard financial commitments. On 13 March, the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills stated:

“Because the 4GLS project had been part of the future…at Daresbury”—

I emphasise “had been”—

“I have asked Sir Tom McKillop to review how best to take forward the science and innovation campus but there should be no doubt about our commitment to future success and our desire to see further investment in Daresbury as a Science and Innovation Campus”.

That sounds to me like jam tomorrow but never today; there is lots of commitment, but the letter is rather thin on money details.

What do we know? There is an £80 million shortfall in the Science and Technologies Facilities Council and there are cuts in physics provision in the north-west. European Union countries have a target of 3 per cent. of gross domestic product to be spent on research and development, but spending on that fell between 2000 and 2005 in the UK. Overall research and development spending fell by 14 per cent. last year. Things are not going well. It would be helpful if the Minister would assure us that things are going better than I think they are. I understand that my remarks are not comfortable for Labour Members, because they would genuinely like the Government to do better for Daresbury, to be more positive and firm in their commitments, and to couple that with resources.

I am listening carefully to the hon. Gentleman but, for the record, will he tell us what discussions he has had on the fourth generation light source with scientists at Daresbury? Would they describe it as a “consolation prize”? In calling it that, the hon. Gentleman is downgrading its importance to Daresbury’s future.

If the only attack that Labour Members can make on my thesis is on that phrase, I shall use another. I was trying to say that, initially, we were unquestionably supposed to have the particle accelerator. It would have been nice to get both that and 4GLS—there is a case for that—but nobody can dispute that we lost out on the synchrotron. The only positive fact—the only firm, clear-cut financial commitment that I understand—in the Minister’s letter of 6 February is in the third paragraph, which states:

“The Synchrotron Radiation Source…will close as planned in 2008, once the existing programme of experiments is complete. This will inevitably involve 180 redundancies over the next two years”.

If people think that that is good news, so be it. It is a hard fact, but in the rest of the letter, a lot of the discussion is kicked into the future.

I should like to turn briefly, if I may, to astronomy, which we have not touched on but it generally affects the issue. We have a similar scenario with the EMERLIN project. As far as north-west science is concerned, a negative case is being made. The STFC says all sorts of good things about it. It says that it is the only world-class astronomical facility based entirely in the UK, and that it makes a significant contribution to radio astronomy and to our understanding of cosmology, galaxy formation and planetary evolution. That is all good stuff.

I was hoping that you would allow me a bit of latitude on that point, Mr. Martlew.

In the north-west—this is to do with Daresbury—physics funding has been cut and blue-chip research, which is commercially useful to the north-west for jobs and economic welfare, has been pulled. The Northwest Regional Development Agency and the universities in the area are being depressed. They are not toasting the Minister and saying, “Isn’t he doing a good job on this!” They are in fact expressing regrets to hon. Members, which is why so many have turned up to the debate. Regional differences are being accentuated by a lack of investment in key scientific facilities in the north-west, the prime cause of which is the £80 million shortfall in funding. That is not a huge sum in Government terms. I accept the points that have been made about the autocratic and, at times, eccentric decision making of the STFC, but what matters to me is that it is a betrayal of my region and its future.

Order. Four Back-Bench Members wish to speak and I should like the wind-up speeches to begin at about 12 o’clock.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale (Mr. Hall) on securing the debate, which is on an important issue for the region, the UK and our constituents. He has been a redoubtable champion of Daresbury laboratory over many years.

Others on this side of the House have been champions of the laboratory for many years, because we see what it achieves. The science campus at the laboratory is a world-renowned large-scale science facility. It has an amazing history: synchrotron technology in the UK developed at Daresbury and it really is whizzy science. Light is spun around at such speed that things can be seen in incredible detail. One can see a cancer cell at the size of a full stop and identify it. For people, that means that we are going to be able to stop cancer, because we will be able to find it at the earliest stages.

The facility is not only about that; it looks at how to make aeroplane wings function more effectively. It is about major industry and manufacturing. It is revolutionising how we deliver industry in the north-west, which is keeping us competitive. My major dispute with the hon. Member for Southport (Dr. Pugh) is that Daresbury laboratory is not going cap-in-hand to ask the Minister for things; rather, it is world-leading and it is positioning our science and industry—our jobs—at the forefront of world science.

Daresbury is not only home to world-leading accelerator science. It is also home to advanced instrumentation and engineering, high-performance computing, nuclear physics, modelling and simulation. Our scientists are spectacular and the facilities and resources on our site must meet their abilities to ensure that they can deliver, because they are central to the decades of success that we have had on the site. The scientists and technicians are internationally acclaimed and I am honoured that a large number of them are my constituents. I have learned so much about our opportunities through what I have been told by those constituents about what they are delivering for the UK and around the globe. More than 5,000 scientists from more than 30 countries use Daresbury’s facilities every year. They do not pop over here thinking that we are second best; they come to Daresbury because it is a world leader. They want to use our facilities, and we want to ensure that Daresbury will be able to continue delivering.

My hon. Friend drew attention to the fact that eight years ago the Diamond project to replace the out-of-date synchrotron on the site was awarded to the Rutherford Appleton laboratory, even though the project had been developed by Daresbury scientists with international peer backing. My hon. Friends will remember being inundated by representations from scientists from all over the globe, including Nobel prize winners, calling for the recognition of and investment in the world-leading facilities at Daresbury.

As a result of strong representations from world scientists, from Members of Parliament, from business and industry and from local and regional government, the Government set up the north-west science and Daresbury task group, of which I was a member. That task group recommended a series of actions to support regional and UK science, including the establishment of the Northwest Science Council. One significant result was major Government investment in the science and innovation campus at Daresbury.

The campus concept is a great idea, under which the public and private sectors can co-operate with regional and national Government to generate real growth from new scientific discoveries. The first major success of the campus was the innovation centre. It was opened two years ago and it now houses more than 60 high-tech companies in fields such as information and communications technology and medical device design and manufacture.

Many of those companies are new start-ups and innovators, and some of them have been drawn to the UK because of the sort of science on offer at Daresbury. Scientists are attracted by the on-site facilities, particularly the research laboratories that are open to companies. They are also attracted by collaboration with the 500 scientists and other staff of the laboratories, who offer world-class capabilities in physics, chemistry, engineering, computing science, biology and other fields. Those industries are benefiting from that close proximity.

The universities of Manchester, Liverpool and Lancaster are key partners in the campus. The campus represents a unique mixture of publicly funded research, private sector companies and investment, and world-class universities—all working together to create innovation and economic growth. It is an incredible success story, and we must ensure that it continues. It is crucial for our economy, and for improving the quality of life for UK citizens, not only for jobs and manufacturing but for health and well-being. We must ensure that research funded by the public sector is made available for exploitation, and the world-class scientists at Daresbury laboratory are critical to that success. Last year, the Government announced that the Daresbury science and innovation campus would be one of only two major science sites in the UK, the other being at Harwell in Oxford. As a result, Government-supported large science projects will go only to those sites.

In the House last week, the Prime Minister said:

“We are committed to additional investment in science and technology in my hon. Friend’s region, and to all the jobs that flow from that, making it possible for the north-west to continue to increase employment during a difficult period for the world economy.”—[Official Report, 26 March 2008; Vol. 474, c. 188.]

I hope that the Minister will give more detail, particularly in relation to the new generation light source, evolved from the 4GLS project developed by scientists at Daresbury over the last six years. Will he confirm not only that Daresbury scientists will be fully involved in and lead the project team, but that, if it is to be built, the new generation light source will be built at Daresbury? I support the call ably made by my hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale for Daresbury to have a voice on the Science and Technology Facilities Council, so that decisions can be made with real knowledge rather than assumptions.

The Government have also funded the Cockroft Institute on the Daresbury site; as my hon. Friend said, it has already attracted leading world scientists. It secured more than £20 million of funding in just one year to develop the site. As well as demonstrating its success in research, the Cockroft Institute will play a key role in training physics graduates in the north-west, to ensure that local young scientists have the best opportunity to develop their knowledge and skills. One of Daresbury’s incredible successes has been to inspire young people in the north-west to succeed in physics and engineering.

Will the Minister expand on the statement from the STFC that

“it will seek the further development of partnership ventures such as the Cockroft centre, an international centre for accelerator science and technology”.

That statement recognises the outstanding success of the Cockroft, but what does it mean in terms of further investment in the Cockroft and associated activity at Daresbury? We need further details.

The key to the considerable success of the science and innovation campus at Daresbury, in all its parts, is the outstanding quality of the scientists and the high level of the engineers and technicians on the site. I support my hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale’s concern about the announcement of redundancies associated with the closure of the old SRS. To develop next-generation facilities, the laboratories must retain key scientific and technological expertise on the site.

At the end of last summer, the STFC caused serious concern about the future of science at Daresbury. It is irresponsible in the extreme for a Government-funded body to take so little care with the success, and indeed the viability, of so important a body as the laboratory and the science and innovation campus. Will the Minister confirm that the STFC will be held to its commitment, made in the past few weeks, to retaining key scientific and technology expertise at Daresbury in high-performance computing, accelerator and detector research, and development of next-generation facilities and the underpinning technologies? Will he also give us details of what was meant by the STFC’s statement at the end of January that it was looking to expand skills on the site as its plans develop? Will he assure us that ALICE will receive the investment that it needs, so that it can continue to succeed?

Overall, will the Minister give us the Department’s assurance that the STFC will minimise job losses from the SRS closure, and deliver on its commitment to develop the light source expertise at Daresbury so that it can continue to play a key role in developing the next generation light source? Will he also confirm that the new light source will be built at Daresbury as part of the critical scientific research anchor to the other facilities on the site? A quarter of the north-west’s economy— £26 billion—is dependent on science. Daresbury science and innovation campus and its university partners at Liverpool, Manchester and Lancaster are at the interface between science and industry. They are opening up huge advances in health diagnosis and treatment. Will the Minister assure us that the STFC will invest at Daresbury in order to build on its world-class success?

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale (Mr. Hall) on securing this debate. He has done an enormous amount of work to secure the future of Daresbury, and all MPs in the region are grateful to him for the lead that he has shown.

I do not intend to repeat points that have been made, although I agree with them. However, I stress the importance of science on the Daresbury site to the future of the region. Since 1962, it has been a vital scientific site. It developed the world’s first synchrotron light source, and it was instrumental in helping a UK researcher win a share in the 1997 Nobel prize for chemistry. We all believe that the decision to send the next-generation light source project Diamond to the Rutherford Appleton laboratory was entirely wrong. However, we are where we are, and our concern is now to secure the future of the site because of the importance of the world-leading science that goes on there to the economy of the north-west.

In the early years, research at Daresbury was almost entirely physics based, but the dominant research disciplines are now biology and medicine; pure physics account for only 15 per cent. of research. The importance of the site can be seen from the fact that although 500 staff work there, the facilities are used by more than 5,000 scientists and engineers each year. The key to Daresbury’s future is the development of the science and innovation campus and the underpinning of that development by investment in world-leading science. One cannot exist without the other. Indeed, a master plan for the development of the campus is being put together, and there are plans to see new buildings grow from the innovation centre.

The vision for Daresbury over the next 25 years involves extending the scale and number of interactions between science, industry and employment on the campus. The link between universities, science and the development of new jobs is exactly what the Government tell us that they want to achieve. Although this country has been a world leader in science, we have never been as good at developing our scientific discoveries for the benefit of jobs and industry as a whole, but that is exactly what the campus at Daresbury seeks to achieve.

We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. In Manchester, we have the biggest single-site state university, and we have great universities at Liverpool and Lancaster. Through the Government’s university challenge, we have the chance to expand higher education in many of our community’s deprived areas. In my constituency, we will also see the development of the new Omega site for science and high-tech industries. However, such things must be underpinned by investment at Daresbury—they are all linked.

The economy of the north-west is heavily dependent on our science base. Major investment in sectors such as materials, aerospace, nuclear and biotech underpin regional development. The Northwest Regional Development Agency will invest more than £50 million in the Daresbury science and innovation campus over the next 10 years. That will give us a unique mixture of fundamental research facilities—the north-west universities will be involved—and commercially driven research and business growth. That is why the Sainsbury review highlighted Daresbury as an example of science and innovation driving collaboration and of investment that would drive regional economic growth.

As the Minister will be aware, the campus is home to more than 60 science and technology companies and more than 220 high-tech jobs. More than 95 per cent. of those companies are small and medium sized, and 40 per cent. are start-ups involving very young businesses. Our region’s future depends on using science to drive employment and growth so that we can provide well-paid, high-tech jobs to replace much of the low-paid employment that has been traditional in our region.

There is often a high level of interaction on the campus. There are already four joint developments and eight collaborative arrangements. However, I say to my hon. Friend the Minister—we are telling him what he already knows—that those arrangements must be underpinned by investment in world-leading science. The Cockcroft institute is a marvellous centre for accelerator science, which is jointly funded by the Northwest Regional Development Agency, the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council and our local universities. That is the kind of the collaboration that we want to encourage, but it can proceed only if we have the investment that we have asked for and if the Minister ensures that ALICE goes ahead and that any fourth-generation light source that is built is built at Daresbury.

This is a test of the Government’s commitment to the regions; it is a test of whether they want to end the disparities between the kinds of employment in the various regions. The north-west does extremely well in terms of investment from the private sector and universities, but it receives only about 3 per cent. of publicly funded research investment. That situation must end. We cannot have a situation in which much of our high-tech, leading science investment goes to the south of England, while the north and the north-west do not get their fair share. We have the world-leading scientists and we have the will to develop these projects. Today, we ask the Government to support us and to ensure that we get the investment that will keep us at the cutting edge of science so that we can develop our industries and so that our scientists and, most importantly, our young people have appropriate opportunities.

I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale (Mr. Hall) on securing the debate, and he is right to be so determined about pursuing the issue.

The key issue that we are debating is the future of the Daresbury science and innovation campus as a key centre of excellence for cutting-edge scientific research, and it is important to remember that that is the core point of our concern. Many of the highly successful activities on the Daresbury site are not in jeopardy, but our efforts must focus on ensuring that the centre remains one of international excellence for cutting-edge research. That is important if we are to ensure that we see developments nationally and internationally. The Daresbury laboratory has made magnificent contributions in that respect and is poised to do even more. It is also important to the north-west and to ensuring that we retain a high level of skills there, because those skills contribute to the north-west economy.

The debate takes place against the background of increasing regional disparities in investment in science and research. If we look at the figures for spending on science and technology in 2006-07, we see that the north-west received £26 per head, the south-east received £38 per head and London received £51 per head. The latest available figures for Government expenditure on research and development, for 2003, show that the north-west received £57 million, London received £258 million and the south-east received £635 million. That is not acceptable. What we are talking about today is providing much-needed support for a centre of scientific excellence, whose worth has been proved.

When Lord Sainsbury opened the Daresbury science and innovation campus, he clearly said that he saw it, together with Harwell, as a centre of major excellence. He described Daresbury as one of two key centres of excellence, and that description has been repeated by Ministers since then. The key question is how their commitment will be shown in practice, given the current circumstances and uncertainty.

I take particular pleasure from the close links between Daresbury and Liverpool university. The laboratory’s first three directors came from the university’s physics department. Hon. Members have mentioned key internationally renowned personnel from Liverpool working at Daresbury, and I should add to the list the name of Professor Peter Weightman, from the university’s physics department, who is the chair of the scientific steering committee for the 4GLS project. I should also mention Professor John Dainton, the Chadwick professor of physics at the university, the founding director and chief scientist of the Cockcroft Institute of Accelerator Science and Technology. Indeed, it is the close collaboration between scientists, universities and business that makes what is happening at Daresbury so unique.

There has been great concern about the way, in the beginning, scientists at Daresbury, and, indeed, other scientists who it was thought had the relevant expertise, were kept away from the assessments of 4GLS. It is important to recognise what the international advisory committee on 4GLS and the new generation light sources and the ALICE project reported in February. That international, important and highly talented scientific group, of international repute, reported:

“The IAC wishes to re-iterate its strong support of the science drivers originally developed by the 4GLS team. We believe the key research goals cited in the science case remain vital and exciting”.

It said:

“The 4GLS design was and is an exciting world class approach to achieve capabilities not possible with any of the other sources”.

Then, in considering the ALICE project, it discussed the importance of keeping the core skills developed at Daresbury. In its conclusion it stated, significantly:

“We recognise that accelerator light sources and capital intensive devices can strain development budgets of science agencies. Nevertheless, the reason such sources are so successful worldwide is that, ultimately, the value of scientific understanding and the economy it drives fully justify the investment. This conclusion is shared by all the major scientific funding agencies around the world”.

That conclusion is particularly important, and underlines why it is so critical that 4GLS or a successor project of comparable worth should go ahead at Daresbury.

We are now at a critical point, when decisions are to be made. The record of the Science and Technology Facilities Council on this matter has not been a happy one, but I hope that it is now better informed by the debates and new research. Would it be possible for the 4GLS project team at Daresbury to become members of the project board for the new light source? It is extremely important to re-emphasise that we are talking about excellence—excellent science and the excellent record of achievements that the Daresbury laboratory and campus already have. We seek assurances from the Minister that Daresbury will be able to continue at the cutting edge of international scientific research, and that 4GLS or a similar project will be able to go ahead at Daresbury.

I add my congratulations to those that have been given to my hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale (Mr. Hall), both for his steadfast support for the project and for bringing the debate to the House. As a member of the hideously named DIUS Select Committee I attended the Daresbury site earlier in the year. We found a demoralised scientific work force who were in despair as to whether the fourth generation light source would arrive. They believed that the world class library on which the fundamental research depended was going to close. They were in doubt about the future of ALICE and suffered further doubt on the basis that if ALICE goes EMMA goes. EMMA is the electron model for many applications for which ALICE is the particle source. That, in essence, is the bulk of the fundamental research that goes on at the site.

My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs. Ellman) mentioned the fact that only 3 per cent. of fundamental research goes on outside universities and outside the south-east; obviously, quite a lot goes on in universities. Most of that research is on the Daresbury site. The site will continue, and excellent science and technology will continue there, because of its applications and because computer modelling will go on. It is a great site. The real question for the Minister is whether fundamental science will go on, and whether Daresbury will be the one site outside the golden triangle of Oxford, Cambridge and London that will continue. If that is to happen, all the projects that I mentioned—ALICE, the library and the fourth generation light source—must continue there. From the information that I have had, I have doubts about whether that will happen.

Do the Government have a regional policy for science? Are they concerned about the dreadful figures? If they do have such a regional policy, what mechanisms will they use to ensure that the scientific community and the Science and Technology Facilities Council invest in the north of England? If the Government do not use their muscle and say, “We must have science at this site,” what the hon. Member for Southport (Dr. Pugh) generously called the culture that pushes fundamental research into the golden triangle will continue. I do not think that it is culture. I think it is southern bigotry, and it should be taken on. What is the role of a Labour Government if it is not to say something when huge resources are being allocated throughout the country, with implications, as my hon. Friends have said, not only for how the relevant research is conducted, but for its relationship with the growth of the economy and education in the region?

I apologise for being late, Mr. Martlew; I was at a meeting of the Select Committee of which I am Chairman. Perhaps I may add one more question for my hon. Friend to put to the Minister, given his experience some years ago, albeit in the chemical sector, in the north-west. What would be the impact of any reduction in the scientific centre in Daresbury on the science-based industry in the region? The use that companies such as Unilever make of Daresbury is incredibly important. It is part of the fabric of the region and is one reason why industry invests in the north-west.

My hon. Friend makes a significant point. The scientific community is more than the sum of its parts, and it changes from time to time, because of the brilliance of parts of the community, when innovations and new discoveries are made. The larger and more solid that base is, the more significant the changes are likely to be. When something goes, the loss is bigger than it appears.

To return to the point that I was making about whether the Government have a regional policy, what levers will they use? We get a fog when answers are given. They say “Yes, we support it,” but will they tell the Science and Technology Facilities Council that it must invest at Daresbury, or will the excuse of the Haldane principle be used: that they cannot tell scientists what science to engage in? I agree with that, if it is a question of telling scientists what kind of microscope, telescope or computers to use, or even when it is a question of the choice between the two projects in question; but the Government can say—and they have said—that they will concentrate on a certain area of research because it is more important. The comprehensive spending review was clear about the fact that more money would go into medical research than into other areas.

If that can happen, the Government can also say, where there are bases of excellence as at Daresbury, that science must take place there. They can say that they will not permit the same thing that happened in 2000, when the Wellcome Trust, which clearly did not want to come to the north of England—the decision was based not on objective evidence but on bigotry—made a raid on the investment and effectively told Lord Sainsbury that there would be a competition, although no one had mentioned one before, enabling it to take resources and slap them into Oxford. I should like an answer to my questions, because they are fundamental to what is happening in the world of science, physics and astronomy, as well as particle accelerators.

I shall leave my hon. Friend the Minister with this thought. A huge investment has been made in the National Institute for Medical Research just up the road in Camden. The way that that project has been carried on is an absolute dog’s dinner. It is a £500 million project putting dangerous chemicals in sites where they probably will not fit, in a densely populated area, but no other part of the country was considered for the site of that facility. We have questioned the people involved. They said, “Oh, it’s half a billion, we’re near King’s and UCL”—or whatever university it may be—“and we are in the south-east, so of course it’s going to go there.” The Government need to tackle that attitude and spread out fundamental research throughout universities as well as sites that are not in universities, to ensure that there is a real regional policy and that the regions benefit from investment in fundamental research.

[Mr. David Wilshire in the Chair]

I join my colleagues in congratulating the hon. Member for Weaver Vale (Mr. Hall) on securing this debate, and I congratulate all hon. Members from the north-west of England who have spoken on their clear knowledge of Daresbury and their commitment to their region. I have learned a lot by listening, including about ALICE and EMMA.

There has been much comment in the press recently about the Science and Technology Facilities Council; indeed, it must have felt like an organisation under media siege after various comments on the budgetary pressures that it faces. I am grateful to have had a meeting with Professor Mason, the chief executive of the STFC, who gave me his perspective on the situation. I understand that the Select Committee on Innovation, Universities and Skills is looking at the issue as well, and I am sure that its report, which will be published shortly, will lead to future debates and deliberations.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Dr. Pugh) mentioned, much of the press’s attention has focused on astrophysics, particularly Jodrell Bank, but today we are concerned solely with Daresbury, home of the Cockcroft institute, the Daresbury science and innovation campus and the Daresbury innovation centre. Those institutions all have a close and critical relationship with the universities in Manchester, Liverpool and Lancaster.

Much of the uncertainty surrounding the budgetary pressures on the STFC arises, perhaps, from the peculiar budgetary pressures unique to it. I am sure that one of the first points that the Minister will make when he responds is that the pressures are occurring against a background of real-terms growth in the science budget, but the STFC commits a third of its budget to international subscriptions to CERN and various astronomy projects. Those are long-term commitments that are hard to restructure and whose budgets are hard to trim. Many of the STFC’s UK projects are also long-term. If there are budgetary pressures—£80 million has been mentioned—they will have an impact on short-term funding. That causes concern in the scientific community and in many universities, including Bristol university in my constituency, about the number of postdoctoral research assistant posts that may be cut in that area of scientific research.

The Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills made a statement about the science budget and its growth during the comprehensive spending review on 11 December last year. It has become clear from my rereading of that statement that the major winners were medicine and the Medical Research Council; the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley (Graham Stringer) referred to a new facility that will be funded, at least in part, by the MRC. It appears that that will lead to budgetary pressure on the other research councils, particularly because part of the growth that they will receive is designed to accommodate the full economic costing of research projects in future.

The Secretary of State’s statement also referred to reviews that he intends to carry out on the health of research disciplines in this country. The very first review, chaired by Professor Bill Wakeham, the vice-chancellor of Southampton university, will examine physics, with which this debate is primarily concerned. It is vital, Mr. Martlew, that decisions—[Interruption.] I beg your pardon, Mr. Wilshire; I had not looked up to see that the Chair had changed while I was speaking.

I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Wilshire, for the conclusion of our proceedings. It is vital that the reviews should be able to come to conclusions, and that the Wakeham review should be able to take place, without decisions being taken that will have far-reaching implications. The Secretary of State also referred to a second highly pertinent review, Sir Tom McKillop’s review of the Manchester city region economy, which will specifically include the Daresbury campus. Again, it is critical that no decisions detrimental to the future of Daresbury should be taken before that review comes to a conclusion and its findings are published.

Universities UK has called for what it terms a sensible period of adjustment before any decisions are taken and—more crucially, perhaps—for year-end flexibility in the budgets of the STFC and other research councils. I am guessing that that is an allusion to the disgraceful raid on research councils’ budgets that took place before the restructuring of Departments last July, while the councils were still within the remit of the Department of Trade and Industry. I hope that one positive result of the creation of the new Departments will be that such short-sighted raids will not happen again.

The STFC says that it is committed to the future of the Daresbury site and that it is working in partnership with higher education institutions in the north-west, the Northwest Regional Development Agency and the private sector to develop an innovation campus. It has stated to me that there is potential for the creation of 10,000 new jobs, although that is obviously an aspiration for the future.

The STFC also says that the fourth generation light source, which has been much mentioned in this debate, will not come on stream until 2012, so it is critical that decisions are not taken in the interim, during the next four years, that will undermine the current science base at Daresbury. We need a critical mass of scientists in place in north-west England to deliver future projects. STFC says that it manages Harwell and Daresbury as a single unit for the benefit of the whole United Kingdom, and that they should not be seen as competing with each other, but I gather that that feeling is not shared by hon. Members from north-west England.

I shall conclude with some comments on the principles of funding research. It is right that private companies or charitable funds such as the Wellcome Trust or Cancer Research UK fund good science wherever they find it and wherever it matches their own remit, but this debate primarily concerns public money for all research councils. There must surely be a regional dimension to the funding of UK science. Several hon. Members have mentioned that we do not want to perpetuate the perception, much less the reality on the ground, of a golden triangle of London and Oxbridge.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his support for Daresbury laboratory and his remarks. They have been far more constructive than those of the hon. Member for Southport (Dr. Pugh). Does the hon. Gentleman agree with his colleague, the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris), about the future of Daresbury laboratory? I understand that the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon has called for it to be closed.

My hon. Friend could not be here this morning, as the Innovation, Universities and Skills Committee is on a visit to the Royal Society. I am not aware that he has made any such statement about the future of Daresbury. Clearly, he has his own constituency interests at heart, but he does speak for my party on a range of UK science issues, and I would be surprised if he did not feel that science funding should be spread throughout the United Kingdom.

I was about to make an observation about my own region. Bristol university, the university of Bath and the university of the West of England are collaborating on a new science and innovation campus, which we hope will open in the next few years at Emersons Green. This debate has focused on the north-west of England, which certainly needs a viable and vibrant research base to underpin the regional economy. I listened with interest, as I always do, to the hon. Members for Warrington, North (Helen Jones) and for Manchester, Blackley. The hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley said that the matter was a key test whether the Government shared that aspiration and were willing to commit the resources to deliver it.

Further to the hon. Gentleman’s earlier remarks, if it is the case that the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris) called for Daresbury to be closed—we believe that it is—does the hon. Gentleman agree?

I will obviously have to clarify that with my hon. Friend, because, in my experience, people can interpret Members’ remarks incorrectly.

I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Wilshire, which you slipped into so eloquently that it would have been easy to miss, but I have a keen eye for these things.

I thank the hon. Member for Weaver Vale (Mr. Hall) for calling this debate, which I am delighted to speak to, not only as the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman, but because of my keen interest—I served on the Science and Technology Committee—in the STFC, its formation and the consequences of some of the decisions made through it. I am conscious of time and I want to give the Minister as much time as possible to answer some of the questions and queries raised, so I shall canter through my remarks as briskly as I can.

The science and innovation campus at Daresbury is doing excellent work involving a heady mix of businesses, scientists and organisations able to facilitate innovation. There is no doubt that innovation, and specifically scientific innovation, holds the key to our place in the world over the coming decades. However, we cannot consider Daresbury in isolation from the Government’s overall policies and expenditure priorities laid down by Ministers. Without the base level of scientists, Daresbury could not perform its work as it needs to. However, over the past several months, Whitehall has delivered what I would call a Whitehall headbutt to scientists over science funding. There is no question but that the £80 million shortfall in the STFC’s budget will impact on the work done through it throughout the country. Did the Minister provide that flat-cash settlement knowing that it would have the knock-on effects demonstrated in the paperwork released under freedom of information legislation? Did he know that his funding decision would have the impact that it did? I guess that the alternative is that neither he nor his Department were aware of it, which would be far worse.

I would like to press the Minister to tidy up the point about the redundancies at Daresbury. We understand that there are plans to close one of the light sources, which will result in 180 redundancies, but how many will there be overall and from which sources will they come? Will they be compulsory, voluntary or lost through natural wastage? What sort of numbers are we talking about? I appreciate that it might be slightly premature on one or two points, but it would be useful if he could tidy that up for us.

Ministers from the Department often seem to boast about the level of science expenditure, but the reality is rather different. While they talk about rising budgets, the P45s appear to be rolling out in several places around the country. About 25 per cent. of research grants will have to be cut over the next few years, until the next spending review. Will the Minister comment? Does he agree with the figure of 25 per cent. or does he have another one for the amount of research that is being cut back on or that will be unable to be delivered?

It is important that the Minister faces up to the fact that his and his Department’s decisions have caused the pressures at Daresbury. There is no doubt that Daresbury does superb work in its various areas, from synchrotron and the core sciences to, more importantly, the innovation through its connection with the 60 or so businesses in the area. As a Labour Member observed here, innovation is the challenge for our nation today. We do reasonably well in research citations, but that needs to be converted into products, services and jobs that boost the economy. Daresbury is in a good position to help with that overall ambition.

I shall focus on three points before allowing the Minister to answer in detail. The first point is about the critical mass of scientists in and around Daresbury and whether that will impact on future projects. I quote from a sobering letter from 63 early career scientists:

“The major cuts in the STFC delivery plan will stifle the development of the future physics talent in this country by irrevocably damaging a large number of university physics departments...Consequently, both the inspiration that our ...outreach activities have on the younger generation...will be lost.”

If the number of scientists employed or deployed at Daresbury falls below a certain level, all of the benefits from a science and innovation campus will fall away fairly briskly. Everyone knows about Oxford, Cambridge and the triangle, but without enough scientists at Daresbury, it is unlikely that businesses will be attracted to the region or that the vision of expanding innovation in the area will continue. Is the Minister aware of staff concerns, and other concerns raised in the House, that Daresbury might not survive without a critical mass of scientists? How would he address those concerns?

My second point is about comments made by Professor Martin Rees, President of the Royal Society, who made clear two related problems with Daresbury and the STFC. He said that

“the STFC has been constrained in its priority-setting by the Ministry, and...there was inadequate consultation with the relevant communities.”

Ministers cannot undercut the STFC’s budget and then scratch their heads and wonder why things are changing on the ground.

That brings me to my last and key point, which I shall put as a question: to what degree do Ministers have control over decisions made by the STFC? It seems that quite often Ministers boast about wonderful new projects and say, “We are responsible for the funding of this project, isn’t it wonderful, give us a big clap”, but that when something goes wrong and there are redundancies, they say, “Oh, this is a decision for the STFC or another body and it is nothing to with me, governor.” For clarity, can the Minister make the decision on the fourth generation light source and where it is to be placed, or is that a decision for the STFC? Finally, does he have a regional science funding policy, and, if so, is he satisfied with the distribution, given that Labour Members have criticised the low level of distribution in the north-west?

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale (Mr. Hall) on securing this debate and pay tribute to him for his work in championing Daresbury over the years. I also acknowledge the support of his colleagues in the north-west and their championing of Daresbury as a major science and innovation campus. I want to reassure them that the Government remain absolutely committed to developing Daresbury as a world-class campus for science and innovation. We all appreciate the current situation, which has resulted from decisions about the Diamond synchrotron—I shall not go into them today given the time, but they have been put on the record previously. I understand the feeling in the north-west that that decision was wrong. However, it is a decision that has been taken and certain consequences flow from it. Therefore, the redundancy situation with the synchrotron radiation source, or SRS, in Daresbury, has been known for a period of time. None the less, it obviously creates a climate of uncertainty for people who work there.

In the remaining time that I have available, I hope that I can provide some reassurances and also set out some of the next steps in terms of what I think the vision for Daresbury will be.

First, I offer my thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale (Mr. Hall) and I pay tribute to him; he is not only looking after the interests of his own constituents but those of my constituents too.

I was pleased to hear the Minister’s opening statement and I believe him to be sincere when he speaks about seeking to retain a world-class service at Daresbury. However, what my Eccles constituents want to know, especially those who either work at Daresbury or who are otherwise concerned for its future, is this: what would the purpose of Daresbury be if no large science project is placed there? Secondly, if, as we all hope, large science projects are placed there in the future, how will the Government guarantee the retention of the world-class skills that would be necessary to run such projects?

I will answer some of the questions put by my hon. Friend, but first, let me put on record the broader picture, in response to the hon. Member for Windsor (Adam Afriyie). It is a matter of fact that there has been a real-terms increase in the overall science budget. The Labour Government have more than doubled the science budget over the last 10 years; by 2010-11, the budget will have tripled since we came into power. However, science does not stand still and decisions will be taken on the basis of scientific priorities. Whatever budget is given to a research council, there will always be more projects that they want to support than they are able to fund. Therefore, decisions have to be taken, but they must be taken on the basis of the best available science.

It is for the Government to set the overall budgetary figures and to approve delivery plans for the research councils, and I think that that is what we do. As part of that process, we will scrutinise those delivery plans in some detail to ensure that they are in accordance with Government policy.

I am coming on directly to the point made by my hon. Friend. It is clearly Government policy to develop Daresbury and Harwell as science and innovation campuses. I would not have recommended approving a delivery plan for the Science and Technology Facilities Council if that plan did not include proposals to develop Daresbury as a science and innovation campus.

We do not have a regional policy, as such. As I have explained to my hon. Friend, research council decisions are made on the basis of a peer review of science. However, individual delivery plans must be in accordance with the strategic priorities of the Government, which includes a clear regional element, because we want to see Daresbury developed as a world-class centre for science and innovation. As part of that aim, I say to hon. Members that we accept the argument that there needs to be a critical mass of world-class scientists undertaking research at Daresbury. Over the coming months, I hope that hon. Members will be able to see clear demonstrations of the Government’s commitment to retaining that critical of scientists.

As ever, my hon. Friend makes fair points about the overall allocation of funding. However, it was a Government commitment that the STFC would be left with no legacy issues and yet, because of the overrun of the costs of Diamond by £75 million, the STFC has been left with a deficit. We are seeing part of the problems of dealing with that deficit in Daresbury, are we not?

No, we are not; that is not my understanding of the facts of the case at all. I have been informed that Diamond was built on time and on budget, and that its running costs position has been known for a number of years. I also must disagree with my hon. Friend when he calls the UK Centre for Medical Research and Innovation “a dog’s dinner” as a proposal. I do not believe that it is “a dog’s dinner” at all; it will be a centre for world-class research in the UK and it should be recognised as such.

As is the case with all these things, these proposals will have their scientific case evaluated and their business case scrutinised. If those cases do not stand up to examination, these projects will not go ahead. Also, as a result of what is called the lion’s case, they will have to consider whether relocation outside of London would be appropriate.

Let me move on directly to the situation at Daresbury. First, I would like to address the situation regarding redundancies. Hon. Members will know that, as a result of decisions taken some time ago with regard to the SRS, there has been a redundancy situation. There has also been a redundancy situation with regards to voluntary redundancy across the STFC’s sites, as it looks to reprioritise the work that it does.

Yesterday the STFC issued nine notices of compulsory redundancy in relation to the planned closure of SRS and five more cases are being considered. The STFC will do everything that it can to minimise any further need for compulsory redundancies on SRS, but, as I said before, the situation has been known for some time.

I am afraid that I will not give way, because I need to respond to the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley.

I want to make it clear that the STFC will develop the Daresbury science and innovation campus as a joint venture with the Northwest Regional Development Agency, the private sector, universities and Halton borough council. Furthermore, Daresbury will continue to be a major plank in the Government’s national science and innovation agenda.

The medium-term strategy is clearly to continue to develop the campus, both on the science side, where we need to have world-class expertise, and on the innovation side. The STFC will complete the current investment in the energy recovery Linac prototype project as a technology demonstrator.

I heard what my hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale said about the ALICE project; I hope to see it tomorrow when I visit Daresbury. The situation, as he will be aware, is that the STFC has conducted a number of programmatic reviews; it has consulted on them, but it has not taken any decisions on them. So I cannot confirm that ALICE will go ahead as a project, because those decisions have not yet been taken by the STFC, so we will be in a difficult limbo situation for some time to come. However, I hope that he will be able to receive good news on ALICE in the future.

The Government have already made it clear but I stress again that 19 out of the 25 people assigned to work on the new light source project are located at Daresbury. The project will be managed by Dr. Frances Quinn from Daresbury. As my hon. Friend knows, Professor Jon Marangos from Imperial college is the project leader and there is a NLS project board, chaired by Professor Tim Wess from Cardiff university, to ensure objectivity and independence.

I heard what my hon. Friend said about having a voice on the STFC, which I think relates to the general point that has been made that the north-west region feels its voice is not sufficiently heard. It is an issue that he will obviously want to take up with the STFC and I am sure it will be interested in his comments.

Tomorrow, I will be visiting Daresbury to make an important public announcement on a further phase of investment in the Daresbury science and innovation campus. I want to stress to everybody here today that I expect that to be the first of a series of announcements that we will make in the forthcoming months, which will further demonstrate the Government’s resolve to make a world-leading success of the Daresbury campus. We also want to see the Hartree Centre developed as a centre for detector systems and continued expansion of the Cockcroft institute. They will be essential planks of our policy as we move forward.

Elder Abuse

I am grateful for the opportunity to raise the serious issue of elder abuse. This is not the first time that I have brought these concerns to the House, nor will it be the last. Over the past 10 years, I have urged Ministers to pay greater attention to elder abuse. I do not want to pretend in this debate that nothing has changed over those 10 years—an awful lot has done. I acknowledge that the Government have done much to develop standard setting, with the introduction of the protection of vulnerable adults scheme and a range of other initiatives that have improved the situation. Clearly, there has been improvement, but there is still much to be done if we are to expose and expunge the scourge of elder abuse from our society.

Today I want to focus on one issue: the use of medication as a chemical restraint. Before doing so, however, I must say that I am a firm believer in serendipity. As Members will know, MPs apply for a debate over a number of weeks and hope that their name will eventually come out of the hat in the lottery for the selection of Adjournment debates. I was therefore pleased when I received the news last Wednesday that this debate had finally risen to the point where it secured a slot. I was even more pleased when, 24 hours later, I learned that three of the issues that I had planned to discuss were being progressed: the closing of a loophole in the Human Rights Act 1998 that prevents a resident in a private care home who is funded by the state from benefiting from the protections of the Human Rights Act; issues around complaints; and the question of research on the prevalence of elder abuse in residential institutions.

That is all welcome news, particularly the news that, at long last, the loophole in the Human Rights Act will be closed, at least partially. It would be churlish to do anything other than welcome that news, and I applaud the fact that the Minister is to introduce amendments to achieve that end. However, I understand from the press release issued last week that the gap will be closed only for residents of care homes who are funded by the state; self-funders will not be protected by the Act. Therefore, when a self-funder crosses the threshold of an independent care home, the writ of the Act apparently will not apply.

I urge the Minister to set out the rationale for that decision, and explain why it is not possible to close the loophole completely. Extending the Act is just the beginning—it is essential but not sufficient. I have heard the Minister make the point in debate that what is required is a cultural change to bring every home up to the standard of the best. Will he therefore say a bit more today about how he intends to go about winning the hearts and minds of care home owners, managers and staff?

Turning to complaints, it is welcome that self-funders will have a right to refer complaints to an independent adjudicator, but, clearly, the devil is in the detail of such a scheme. Just how independent and powerful will the adjudicator be when it comes to settling disputes? Finally, on research, I have argued in debates over the years that we need to commission research into the prevalence of elder abuse in institutional care settings. Indeed, last year’s research funded by the Department and by Comic Relief revealed that elder abuse is a problem in the community, as some 342,400 people over the age of 66 are victims. That was a stark warning and reminder of the scale of the challenge that society faces in dealing with the issue. Research is certainly welcome, but it must not be a substitute for action, which is what I am calling for today.

For several years, I have taken an interest in the inappropriate and even abusive use of anti-psychotic medication in care homes. This is not simply a matter of poor standards in some of our institutions. It demands more than just a response from providers, commissioners and regulators. There is a growing body of evidence from studies and other research about the abusive prescribing and administration of drugs. That really ought not to be a matter just for regulators and commissioners but for the criminal justice system, the police and the courts.

A slap on the wrist from a regulator or social services is not sufficient to deal with the abusive and inappropriate use of medication. Frankly, people should go to prison. Prescribing anti-psychotic drugs to manage the behaviour of elderly people with dementia is a shocking abuse, because the evidence is clear, and has been for rather a long time, that the drugs cut lives short, increase the risk of stroke and have other harmful side effects that create the justification for further prescribing. The drugs create many of the symptoms that are used as a pretext for prescribing drugs in ever greater doses.

Some 100,000 care home residents are prescribed such drugs at any one time, according to research by the Alzheimer’s Association. Based on research presented to the Alzheimer’s Research Trust, I estimate that as many as 23,500 care home residents die prematurely as a result of taking anti-psychotic drugs, which are not even licensed for the treatment of dementia. I understand the difficulties in the ethics of testing drugs on people who are unable to give their consent, and Parliament has debated the issue. Nevertheless, a large part of our population is prescribed such drugs off-licence. That is not illegal: doctors can prescribe licensed drugs for an unlicensed purpose on their own authority. The General Medical Council makes it clear in its guidance to doctors on prescribing off-licence drugs that they must satisfy themselves that the drugs are safe, that good records are kept and that regular medicine reviews take place. However, on the face of it, the GMC’s guidance is routinely ignored by GPs. Prescribing anti-psychotic drugs has become the accepted norm, despite clear guidance issued by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence and by the Social Care Institute for Excellence. Inappropriate and abusive prescribing is an infringement of human rights and should be prosecuted under the Mental Capacity Act 2005 as assault, ill treatment or wilful neglect.

When it comes to the administration of medicines in care homes, the most recent figures—there should be some out in the next couple of months—show that more than 4,000 care homes fall short of the minimum standard. We need to be clear about the fact that we are talking about a minimum standard. When the Commission for Social Care inspection looked at the matter, it concluded:

“People are given the wrong medication, someone else’s medication, medication in the wrong doses, or no medication at all.”

It found many care homes failing to attain or sustain the minimum standard—they get to the standard but then slip back—and that was a recurring theme in several inspections. Indeed, one only has to look at inspection reports to see that recurring deficiency.

The reports on care homes document concerns such as poor storage and record keeping, failure to safeguard residents, inadequate training and supervision, and lack of medicine reviews. Some homes are repeat offenders. How can doctors safely prescribe anti-psychotic medication for residents in homes that are habitual failures when it comes to the minimum standards of medicine management? That brings me to medicine reviews. In 2001, the Government published the national service framework for older people. It promised that by 2002, everyone over 75 should have their medicines reviewed at least annually, and people who take four or more medicines should have reviews every six months. Research by the Medicines Partnership, an agency that works with the Government, states that there remains a lack of clarity in the definition of medication or medicine review. That lack of clarity has led to various interpretations in different parts of the country by different practitioners and, therefore, to inevitable confusion and inconsistency in the application of medicine review practice.

Seven years after the undertaking in the national service framework, what is happening? Is there a clear definition? That is a question to which I do not have an answer. It is not obvious that there is a clear definition against which systematic audits are done to ensure that we gain traction. Does the Minister know how many medicine reviews take place every year? Apparently, that information is not collected centrally, and it is hard to obtain it locally. A lot can happen to someone when they are prescribed a range of anti-psychotic medicine for six months, which is one reason why, in the USA, monthly medicine reviews take place when an older person in residential care is prescribed four or more drugs, with quarterly reviews for those who are prescribed fewer than four. Surely, that should be the standard is this country, too.

Since 1999, the number of anti-psychotic drugs prescribed to people over 60 has risen by 38 per cent. That contrasts with the fact that the population of over-60s in this country over the same period has risen by just 6 per cent. What is going on with prescribing practice for those drugs? Prescribing is wrong if it aims to manage behaviour such as wandering, poor self-care, restlessness, impaired memory, depression without psychosis, unco-operativeness, and agitation. Those are all symptoms of dementia, but they are not a justification for prescribing. However, that is exactly what happens. Using drugs chemically to restrain vulnerable older people with dementia is no different from putting them in a straitjacket. It kills people.

NICE says that there is a two to threefold increase in the risk of death, and a twofold increase in the risk of stroke. Despite all the evidence, we lack the systems and safeguards to protect vulnerable people. Where are the robust clinical governance arrangements to audit prescribing practice? Why are commissioners and regulators so tolerant—one might even say complacent? Anti-psychotic drugs should not be prescribed to people with mild to moderate dementia. Even in severe dementia, the benefits are, at best, limited.

Will the Minister take steps to ban the use of anti-psychotic drugs in the treatment of people with mild dementia? Some people argue that without medication care homes could not cope, but research evidence demonstrates that there is an alternative, on which I think the Minister and I agree—person-centred care in care homes. When staff are trained and supported, with the emphasis on alternatives to drugs for the management of agitated behaviour, older people’s quality of life can be transformed, and they may live longer. When I raised the issue at Health questions recently, the Secretary of State told me that the national dementia care strategy, which will be published later this year, has a part to play. That is the right approach, so will the Minister confirm that the strategy will be clear and unequivocal about ending the dependency on anti-psychotic drugs to manage dementia?

The guidance from NICE and the Social Care Institute for Excellence is clear about how to respond when dementia causes significant distress, or challenging behaviour develops. Drugs do not help. If the guidance is clear, what is missing? I believe that the answer is leadership. We need leadership by commissioners and regulators to put in place robust audit and action to stamp out bad medicine practice; leadership by the Crown Prosecution Service to send a message that abusive medication is a criminal offence; leadership by clinicians, care home owners, managers and staff to blow the whistle on bad practice and face up to the legacy of lethal prescribing; and, above all, there must be leadership from politicians and Ministers to do everything in their power to protect vulnerable older people from ill-treatment. I hope that the Minister will respond positively, as everyone with an elderly parent or grandparent expects nothing less.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Burstow) on securing this important debate, and on the incredibly effective way in which he has raised issues concerning the dignity, care and protection of older people in a variety of ways while he has been in the House. As the Minister responsible for many of those issues, I genuinely welcome his passion. I also pay tribute to him for his balanced contribution, which recognised that some of the issues are complex, and concern the behaviour of clinicians and regulators. Gently, I say to him that his contribution to the debate is very different from his press release which stated:

“Government fail to act on warnings.”

When politicians complain about spin, and then spin themselves, it is no wonder that the public are sometimes a little sceptical. However, seriously, the hon. Gentleman is passionate about these issues, and not enough hon. Members talk about the needs of older people.

I shall reflect on the specific issues that the hon. Gentleman raised. First, the Government have a good record on the regulatory system. Soon after coming into office, we put in place, for the first time, national minimum standards for what is expected from care providers. We introduced a new regulatory system to ensure that providers’ performance is monitored robustly, and that has led to a significant rise in standards throughout the country, particularly in residential and nursing care. Of course, there are still homes that do not meet the appropriate standards, so we still have work to do.

The Government also introduced the “No Secrets” guidance on the protection of vulnerable adults, which was, for the first time, a framework. We asked local agencies in every local community to work together to ensure that, in line with the guidance, we had a much better system of adult protection than we had ever had previously. As the hon. Gentleman said, we made some significant announcements last week about how we want to toughen protection for vulnerable older people. We should reflect on the fact that the changing nature of society makes that a top public policy priority. As people live longer and longer, family members and carers are under pressure to fulfil the responsibilities. Demographic change—the ageing population—is increasingly a challenge for families, communities, Parliament and Government.

Last week, we announced a £2 million project in partnership with Comic Relief over three years to consider the risk of abuse faced by older people, specifically in institutionalised settings, but also more generally where older people are not treated with the dignity—that is not quite the same as abuse, but there is a continuum—that they should expect, whether on NHS wards, in residential nursing homes or in domiciliary care services. That prevalence study will take place over the next three years with the support of Action on Elder Abuse, and I should pay tribute to that organisation’s tremendous work in highlighting elder abuse. I was fortunate enough to speak at its annual conference on Monday where there was an impressive gathering. Its chief executive, Gary Fitzgerald, does a tremendous job in ensuring that the issue has the profile that it deserves.

Action on Elder Abuse also supported the study published last year, to which the hon. Gentleman referred, on the risk to older people of being abused in their own homes behind closed doors, because the other change in society is that an increasing number of older people are choosing to remain in their own homes for as long as possible. The debate about protecting older people tends to be skewed towards residential and nursing homes, but we must keep an eye on the fact that more and more people will be cared for at home. There is a question about domiciliary care agencies, their relationship with carers and so on.

In the design of the prevalence study published last year, dementia sufferers were excluded. Clearly, in relation to institutional settings, people with dementia will have to be included. When designing the new study, will work be done to try to reach people with dementia in the community?

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point and, interestingly, that will be one of the characteristics and key components of the new prevalence study. We estimate, as he knows, that approximately two thirds of people in nursing care have dementia, so one of the challenges of the prevalence study is to consider how to empower, enable and protect people in those circumstances. Older people who have different conditions and circumstances pose a separate challenge.

I shall address the hon. Gentleman’s specific comments about extension of the Human Rights Act 1998, which I must be clear about. When that Act was introduced, Parliament’s and Government’s intention was that publicly funded residents of private residential and nursing homes, as well as those in publicly provided residential and nursing care, should be covered. Subsequently, a House of Lords ruling put that in a lot of doubt. Therefore, the Government will seek to amend the Health and Social Care Bill to ensure that we reinstate Parliament’s original intention, which was that the Human Rights Act should cover publicly funded residents of private establishments.

To deal directly with the hon. Gentleman’s comment, the 1998 Act is about the relationship between the state and the citizen. It is, therefore, entirely inappropriate to talk about extending the Act to include people who fund their own care. However, more significant safeguards to protect self-funders are needed. The hon. Gentleman will know that the transformation programme for adult social care begins today in every local authority area and that one of the new emphases is a responsibility to self-funders. Too often in local authority areas, self-funders are told that they are on their own. One of the key elements of the transformation programme is the provision of much higher-quality information and advice to self-funders and their families, and a much greater focus on the needs of all citizens—not just those who are publicly funded—who use social care. The Human Rights Act is not the mechanism to deal with people who are funding their own care because it is about the relationship between the state and the citizen.

The hon. Gentleman referred to our announcement last week that we will act to help people who fund their own care. At the moment, if those people have a complaint against a care provider, their complaint is considered only by the organisation that they are complaining against and there is no right of independent appeal beyond that process. We will introduce proposals to help such people, but we are not in a position yet to share the details with the hon. Gentleman. However, the proposals will ensure that self-funders who are dissatisfied with the handling of their complaint have the right to seek a review by an independent organisation. Following discussion and negotiation, we need to decide which is the most appropriate and expert organisation to fulfil that role.

Will the Minister give serious consideration to ensuring that whoever discharges that adjudication role is fully subject to the Human Rights Act so that someone could take them to court if they fail to enforce human rights?

In view of some of the things that I am reported to have said over the weekend, if I start speaking for the Ministry of Justice in debates such as this it may be one step too far. We need to consider the end point. If people are state-funded and are unhappy with their provider, they can refer to the local authority’s complaint procedure. Ultimately, they can go to the local government ombudsman if they are still dissatisfied. We must examine the chain for people to get proper and appropriate redress. However, I shall not make any specific commitments on that today.

I urge the hon. Gentleman to contribute to our review of “No Secrets”, which is starting now and will go on for the next few months. We will put out a consultation document in the summer, and I urge him to respond to it. I offer to meet him to discuss his views. We need to focus on prevention and early intervention in relation to crime and safety, to encourage a new wave of innovative practice, to increase responsiveness and local accountability, to empower local and vulnerable people and those who have not previously been adequately safeguarded, and to develop new forms of support and encouragement so that people can improve their own health and safety. I urge him to be part of the debate about where we go next with “No Secrets”, and I will meet him specifically to consider his views, as he has taken a particular interest in the issues.

On the question of medication, the Government have done a number of things, but we need to reflect on the emerging evidence and, if appropriate, act in the short term. However, we will have to act following the publication of the national dementia strategy in the autumn. If we are to have a credible, robust national strategy to improve the quality of life and standard of care for people with dementia and their families, we cannot avoid tackling the issue. If measures can be taken in advance of the publication of that strategy, I am more than willing to consider them.

The hon. Gentleman may be aware that, on 26 March, I met the hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Jeremy Wright), who is the chairman of the all-party group on dementia. He is another hon. Member who does an excellent job championing what was once an unfashionable cause. Last August, we said that we would bring dementia out of the shadows, and we have been able to do that with the assistance of parliamentarians on both sides of the House. As the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam will be aware, the all-party group is about to publish a report. The hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth was good enough to give me some advance notice of the kind of issues that were likely to be raised and the recommendations. We focused on a number of specifics. One of the major messages was the need for the training of front-line staff. There was a need for friends and families to be more involved in the oversight of care, to ensure consultation when crucial decisions are made about medication. There will also be a recommendation along the lines of a three-monthly review of medication for all residents. I cannot be specific about how the Government will respond to such recommendations, but we will take the all-party report seriously and respond to it, both in the short and long term. That will be a key element of the first ever national dementia strategy in the autumn.

The hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam might be interested in some specific statistics. Through the new general medical services contract, medication reviews for patients being prescribed four or more repeat medicines were included as one of the performance indicators in our quality and outcomes framework. In 2005-06, 95.8 per cent. achieved an acceptable level for that indicator. In the year ending 31 March 2007, 7 per cent. of homes inspected against the national minimum standards for care homes for older people failed the medication standard. Some 33 per cent. almost met the standard—I will give him more details about what that might mean—59 per cent. met the standard, which is a significant majority but nowhere near enough, and 2 per cent. exceeded the standard. That represents some minor improvement, but the figures are pretty stubborn: in the previous year, 8 per cent. failed the standard, 33 per cent. almost met it, 58 per cent. met it and 1 per cent. exceeded it. A hard core of providers are not meeting acceptable standards.

One of the difficult issues in this debate is professional judgment. I am not a doctor and some of the judgments are made by professionals using best available clinical evidence and acting, as they would see it, in the best interests of the patients. Ministers cannot possibly second-guess some of those clinical judgments. However, I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is not acceptable for a modern health and social care system, as a first instinct, to drug inappropriately people who, as a consequence of dementia, are exhibiting potentially challenging behaviour. The approach is about cultural change, training and regulation.

Commissioning also has an important role to play in protection. If private homes are not fulfilling their responsibilities with regard to dignity or appropriate care, local authorities should stop commissioning services from them. There is not a magic bullet or a quick fix; we must do a whole series of things to ensure that people with dementia are not inappropriately drugged in a way that none of us would find acceptable for members of our own family. The Government will say more about that as we develop a national strategy this autumn.

Black and Ethnic Minority Pupils

I am grateful to have the opportunity to raise a key educational matter. I shall speak about the education system and black and minority ethnic children, and will specifically address the disproportionate levels of exclusion among black and minority ethnic children.

When my Government came to power in 1997, one of their themes was “education, education, education”. That was right, because education is not just the key to our society now, but to our competitiveness as society goes forward in a modern, globalised world. There is no doubt that the Government have many educational achievements to their credit. In my constituency, Hackney North, millions of pounds have been poured into the new academy programme and I have seen standards rise.

Since I have been a Member of Parliament, I have argued consistently that educational standards cannot be raised in the inner city overall without raising the standards of black children. Apart from anything else, that is a statistical point, because in the inner London boroughs, the majority of children are black and minority ethnic. In some of those boroughs—notably Brent and Lambeth—the largest single group of children are black children. Progress has been made on the issue, but, sadly, for many years the Department for Children, Schools and Families and the educational establishment generally have clung to a colour-blind approach to these matters. I shall demonstrate that that has been exemplified in the way in which the Department has approached exclusions. The colour-blind approach of which officials are so proud has failed at least three generations of black children.

Before talking about exclusion specifically, I want to paint a picture for the Minister about where we are in relation to black and minority ethnic children in the school system generally. I shall quote from a report from the former Department of Education and Skills on black exclusions that was published last year. This is the situation that now exists:

“Black Caribbean pupils are significantly more likely to be permanently excluded—3 times more likely than White pupils.”

The Minister will probably say that is because of their class background and the fact they have special educational needs. In fact, even when that figure is controlled, for the take-up of free school meals, which is a rough and ready indicator of class and special educational needs, black Caribbean pupils are still 2.6 times more likely to be permanently excluded. Black pupils are routinely punished more harshly, praised less, told off more often and are 1.5 times more likely than white pupils to be identified as having behaviour related to special educational needs.

In relation to base-line entry tests, black pupils outperform their white peers at the start of school, but the new observation-based foundation stage profile reverses that pattern. Black pupils are disproportionately put in bottom sets, and as someone whose child went through the school system and went to a state primary close to my home in Hackney, I have seen that with my own eyes. The following is an interesting quote from a Department for Education and Skills report, “Evaluation of Aiming High: African Caribbean Achievement Project”:

“Whilst many teachers…believed setting to be based solely on ability, data indicated that African Caribbean pupils were sometimes relegated to lower sets due to their behaviour, rather than their ability.”

Finally, an important point to which I will return is that when we asked newly qualified teachers about how their training had prepared them to teach pupils from minority ethnic backgrounds, 22 per cent. rated their course as poor. Only 35 per cent. of newly qualified teachers rated their course as good for preparing them to teach black children, as opposed to the 60 per cent. who rated their course as good preparation for teaching children of all abilities.

That is the current picture. I say to the Minister that this issue is neither new—it goes back decades—nor marginal. It may seem a marginal problem in some parts of the country, but in all our big cities—London, Birmingham, Manchester and Bristol—the issue of minority ethnic educational underachievement and the problem of school exclusions that goes with it is the key to raising standards overall for children. The problem goes back at least to the 1970s. In 1971, the black academic, Bernard Coard, produced a seminal work entitled “How the West Indian is Made Educationally Subnormal in the British School System”. Since then, academics, activists, black commentators and educators have raised the issue of how the school system fails black children. However, they have not simply addressed issues relating to the mainstream school system. There is a proud history of community-based initiatives, Saturday schools and other projects through which the community has tried to help its children raise their standards.

Over the past decades, as well as in recent years, I have held five successive conferences in London entitled, “London Schools and the Black Child”. I have been privileged to hear Ministers speak at all of those conferences, and they have attracted the attendance of more than 2,000 black parents and educators. I cannot think of any educational conferences of that type in London that would have 2,000 parents and teachers queuing around the block at 9 o’clock on a Saturday morning. Officials who attended the conference can confirm that that was the case, and it shows how important education is to black parents. When we ask black parents informally and formally what the top issue is, they say it is exclusion. Again, the Department of Education and Skills priority review on the exclusion of black pupils, “Getting it. Getting it right”, discusses the iconic status of the exclusion issue for black communities. Black parents do not believe that the school system is meeting the needs of their children unless something is done about the disproportionate level of exclusions.

The issue may be new to some officials and the Minister, but the Department and Ofsted have been looking at the problem for more than a decade. In 1996, an Ofsted report showed that excluded black pupils did not have the same deprivation characteristics as excluded white pupils. In other words, the exclusion of black pupils was not wholly tied to class background and special educations needs; there were other factors involved. In 1996, a review of research into BEM education produced for Ofsted highlighted the dual problem of high exclusion rates and poor educational outcomes for black pupils. In 1999, Osler and Hill did another piece of research that highlighted those twin interrelated problems: poor educational outcomes and high exclusion levels. Ten years ago, that piece of research pointed out that specific targets were needed to lower black exclusion levels.

In the late 1990s, the Runnymede Trust produced a report entitled “Black and Ethnic Minority Young People and Educational Disadvantage”, which found that despite the wealth of small-scale research into the problem of different exclusion levels for black pupils, there was no clear policy line on how to tackle the problem. In 1999, a briefing paper by the Runnymede Trust called for the Government to set specific national and local targets to reduce the disproportionate exclusion of black pupils. A book written in 2000 by a group of respected teachers and educators, “Race, Class and Gender in Exclusion from School”, discussed the interplay between race and gender in the construction of black boys as hyper-masculine. The Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, has produced a number of reports on the issue and has called for an increase in the number of black teachers and for a teaching work force in London that looks like London. The London Development Agency undertook a major research review in 2003 and, among other things, found that many teachers have lower expectations of black pupils and that black pupils feel that they receive less positive input and, in some cases, even experience discrimination from teachers.

In 2003, the Commission for Racial Equality attempted to research to what extent schools have implemented the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000. It found many schools unwilling to partake in the research, and the schools to which it did manage to speak generally had not implemented the race relations duty and had no clear goals for improvement. In 2004, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that, in some areas, black Caribbean pupils were 15 times more likely to be excluded than their white counterparts. In 2005, a report commissioned by the Department for Education and Skills entitled “Minority Ethnic Exclusions and the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000” stated that despite a significant amount of literature from the CRE and the Department on exclusions and the race relations duty, that information was not impacting on schools or local authorities sufficiently. It is not me saying that, it is not campaigners and it is not the black community—it is the Department’s own report. The report’s authors found in their research that a significant minority of schools were failing to implement the duties in the race relations legislation, specifically regarding exclusion levels. In November 2005, the DFES high-level group on race equality identified the high exclusion rate of black pupils as a priority area for action. An academic working in the Department at the time produced a paper to introduce key arguments on institutional racism.

Most importantly and most recently, in 2007, the Department published its “Priority Review: Exclusion of Black Pupils”, with the subtitle “Getting it. Getting it right”. That report highlighted the marginal status of race equality as a concept in the education system and the tendency to ignore racial or cultural differences. The report was quite exhaustive. I have a copy with me. Senior officials undertook visits to organisations that worked with young people who had been excluded from schools. They had face-to-face conversations with excluded black young people. A literature and statistical review was compiled by the schools analysis and research division. There were conversations with key opinion formers and stakeholders in the area.

There we have it. There has been more than 10 years of research on black exclusions, much of it by the Department and the rest by universally acknowledged academic experts in the field. More recently, since the 2007 exclusion of black pupils priority review, an independent report on citizenship education was produced by Sir Keith Ajegbo, who commented that the high level of black exclusions could be due to institutional racism. In 2007, the National Union of Teachers produced a charter on the issue. It argued, among other things, that teachers should have a responsibility to demonstrate cultural competency and to work with parents and carers to reduce the high number of exclusions of black Caribbean boys.

I have referred to the Department’s own research and to academic research. I have said that even when we allow for social class and special educational needs, black pupils are 2.6 times more likely to be excluded than white pupils. I say to Ministers that I believe that the official figures for exclusions understate the number of black children unofficially excluded from our schools system, and that the real figure for black children who find themselves outside the schools system may be even higher than the official figures suggest, because schools, conscious that figures are now collected, have found other ways of excluding children unofficially that they do not have to report.

I have been raising this issue with Ministers and in Parliament for almost all the time I have been a Member of Parliament, so I am sure that this Minister will understand why I am astounded at the relative inactivity of his Department over the past 10 years on this matter. After a decade of substantial research, comment and evidence of disproportionality, why do the statistics still tell us that black and ethnic minority children are far more likely to be excluded from school? I would say that, certainly in London, 80 per cent.—the majority of those excluded—are black boys.

I would point to two particular aspects of the exclusions crisis. First, we have to recognise that the disproportionate level of exclusions of black children is more than just a statistical anomaly. Children who are excluded from school tend to become excluded from society. It is not just a question of disrupting a child’s education; it can have a knock-on effect on the rest of someone’s life. Being excluded from school is a tragedy for the child, even though they may not recognise it at the time. It is certainly a tragedy for the family. I have sat with many mothers who were in tears because their son had been excluded and they did not know what to do and were not offered the right support. They believed that their child’s life was, in a sense, over. I agree with the Department’s own black exclusions priority review that, for the black community, school exclusions are as significant and poignant an issue as the stop-and-search laws.

I have spoken about the mothers I have worked with over the years who are distraught at finding themselves with a child who has been excluded and without the support, help and advice that they need, but let us be more specific. Being excluded from school automatically means disruption to education, no matter what other provisions are put in place. It has been argued, not unreasonably, that the disproportionately high level of black exclusions is making the achievement gap between black and other students worse. The Department’s priority review said that excluded black pupils were one third less likely to achieve the standard five A to C GCSE grades.

The exclusions crisis has an impact on unemployment. A 2004 report for the Prince’s Trust stated that half of unemployed young people said that a lack of qualifications had led to their unemployment. Leaving school without qualifications makes it much more likely that young people will move into unemployment, benefits and even crime. The Department’s priority review suggests that exclusion from school means that black pupils are 3 per cent. more likely to be unemployed and will on average suffer a reduction of £36,000 in lifetime earnings.

If the Government are not interested in anything else, they can focus on crime. In 2004, 80 per cent. of the juveniles in prison had been excluded from school. I repeat: 80 per cent. Compared with the general population, prisoners are 20 times more likely to have been excluded from school. The previous director general of Her Majesty’s Prison Service, Martin Narey, said in 2001:

“The 13,000 young people excluded from school each year might as well be given a date by which to join the prison service some time later down the line.”

Even if officials and Ministers are not concerned about the tragedy of exclusion for the family involved, and even if they cannot see that they cannot make a step change in achievement in London without doing something about exclusions, the link between exclusions and criminality—80 per cent. of juveniles in prison were excluded from school—ought to concentrate Ministers’ minds. We ought to be seeing some joined-up government from a Government who, on the one hand, talk about the problem of antisocial behaviour and fighting crime but, on the other hand, have moved too slowly on exclusions.

Secondly, there is some evidence that the disproportionate exclusion rate for black and minority ethnic pupils is tantamount to a breach of the race relations legislation. The Department’s 2005 report, “Minority Ethnic Exclusions and the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000”, said:

“In a significant minority of secondary, primary, special schools and PRUs”—

pupil referral units—

“it would appear that the general and specific duties of the RRAA are not being fully met.”

The report concluded that

“where schools were not implementing the duties of the RRAA, the disproportionalities in exclusions by ethnic group should be considered institutionally racist outcomes.”

In effect, schools and local education authorities are not fulfilling their obligations under the race relations legislation, and I believe that the Government are not doing enough to ensure that they do so. The black exclusions priority review—an excellent document, which I recommend to the Minister if he has not read it—was finished in September 2006. However, the Government did not release it then. It was released only when the review was leaked to a newspaper. It was finally released in March 2007, more than six months after it was completed. It discusses the importance of focusing on black school exclusions and of recognising the presence of institutionalised racism, yet after its release a spokesman for the Department was quoted as saying: “It is hard to see how using this label”—institutional racism—“would help schools and local authorities to take intelligent action to tackle the issue.”

None the less, the review recommended a specific focus on black school exclusions and said that the Department should do more. The review came out last year, so I looked at the section in the Department’s website on exclusion to find the information, help and advice on black exclusion that a teacher or parent might need, but it contained no specific information on that issue, only general information. The 2007 guidance on exclusion, which is designed for use by teachers and governors, does not include any of the issues pointed out by the priority review. It is as if the priority review did not happen for officials. The only part of the website where black school exclusions are considered is the research and statistics section, which provides a link to reports from 2003 to 2005, but there is no reference whatever on the website to the Department’s work on the black exclusions priority review.

I realise that the website is not a definitive reflection of the Department’s attitude to the subject, and that teachers who are looking for information can go elsewhere—perhaps they could find something useful on TeacherNet, for example. However, I cannot hide my disappointment when Ministers are, ostensibly, so positive. In March 2007, the Minister for Schools and Learners said that the Government wanted to ensure that they were better

“able to equip our schools to identify the in-school factors and have a better understanding of ‘culturally different’ behaviours”.

In October last year, when the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families was challenged on the fact that black boys are three times more likely to be excluded, he said:

“Every head and governing body should be challenging these figures. There are very few schools that are not challenged by teaching and preparing pupils for a more diverse society. This is not a minority issue”.

However, the message does not appear to have seeped down to officials. I could understand a softly-softly approach and a focus on research and pilot projects if the issue was new but, as I have spelled out to Ministers, the issue has been researched and set out for more than a decade.

There are success stories—we know what works—but we seem to be lacking leadership. The arguments have been made for more than a decade, and I would like local authorities and schools to set clear targets for reducing exclusions, and school exclusion data to be broken down by ethnicity and made available in the same way as other data about schools. As a parent, I believe that it is a great injustice that parents can obtain information on exam results and levels of pastoral care, but not on the level of exclusions of black boys. It is time that such information was made available.

I am aware that as a consequence of black exclusion support in 2007, the Department set up a pilot project. I shall not detain the Minister by talking about the failings of the project, as I hope to have an opportunity to meet the Secretary of State. The pilot project is a great disappointment—it does not even properly reflect the recommendations of the Department’s review. The Government have made progress, both on education generally and on black educational underachievement. I should like to put on record the fact that Lord Adonis is the most constructive and engaged schools Minister with whom I have dealt in the 10 years in which I have lobbied on the issue of black underachievement, and I am grateful to him for the help and support that he has given me on a range of issues. However, on the specific issue of black children and exclusion from school, it seems that the Department is still moving too slowly and that the model used in the pilot is defective in ways that I do not have the time to spell out here.

I shall end by quoting from the Government’s priority review on the exclusion of black pupils:

“Left to its own devices, the system will conclude that Every Child Matters, but that Black children’s failure and social exclusion is be expected—that they matter a little bit less”.

I have spent 20 years in Parliament arguing that no matter how difficult it is for officials or however marginal the issue seems to Ministers, black children should not matter “a little bit less” than other children. If the Government’s commitment on education means anything, it should mean a commitment to every single child, whatever their colour or religion, achieving their very best within the school system, for their own and society’s benefit. It should also mean that the Government bear down on the long-standing issue of the disproportionate level of exclusion, and that they should do so now.

I shall do my best in the five minutes that I have to respond to my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott). I congratulate her on securing the debate on this extremely important issue.

Because of the time constraints, I shall respond first to three specific points that she made before making more formal observations. First, I undertake to look at the fact that no specific reference is made to black exclusions in the exclusions section of the website, and to come back to her on the matter. Secondly, on targets for exclusions and breaking the data down by ethnicity, my hon. Friend was quite right about the “Getting it. Getting it right” report. There was a significant and interesting breakdown in the report, which I have read, which confirms many of the points that she made on exclusion. She spoke in particular about black boys. In some minority ethnic groups, exclusion rates are lower than the national average, but there is the particular problem that she rightly identified and on which she has campaigned for many years. Thirdly, given that she did not have time to go into detail about her specific concerns about the pilot, perhaps she will write to me so that I can look into them.

I shall try to cover as much of the issue as possible in the remaining time. I agree with my hon. Friend that nothing is more important than ensuring that every child succeeds. She has met our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and, as she mentioned, Lord Adonis, to discuss what more the Government can do, not only to raise the attainment of black and ethnic minority pupils, but to do something on the exclusion issue. She also mentioned the progress that has been made. In fact, black Caribbean pupils’ results at GCSE have risen by almost double the national increase in the past five years, and now more than half of them achieve five GCSEs at grades A to C, compared with only one third in 2003. Among black African pupils, there has been an increase of 15 per cent. in the past five years. There have been improvements in attainment in school, which she acknowledged. However, we acknowledge—I share much of her analysis of the problem—that we must not be colour blind, and that there is still much to address and progress to be made on exclusion.

As she pointed out, it is a complex problem, and a range of factors are likely to contribute to the solution, including raising aspirations, ensuring that young people want to come to school, promoting better community cohesion, creating strategies for dealing with the problems of conflict and friction, training and support of teachers, and recruiting more minority ethnic teachers, as she said, and getting them involved so that our schools more closely reflect the communities they serve. She will be aware that a number of programmes have been introduced, and she may wish to send me her views on achievement programmes for black pupils and black children. “Aiming High” is the first national strategy to address attainment inequality through regional and local strategies that are targeted at specific ethnic minority groups. It is not only about bringing those pupils up to the national average—we are also asking schools to identify the gifted and talented youngsters in those groups.

She referred to the 2006 report, “Getting it. Getting it right”, which identified many of the details of the problems to which she referred. Those involved in the national strategies are working closely with us to trial a set of approaches and materials to effect cultural change in the education system. Given the time constraints, I cannot say much about that today, but I hope that my hon. Friend will send me more details about that and the London challenge programme, which is a five-year partnership between Government, schools and boroughs in London to focus on raising standards in the capital’s secondary schools.

Of course, some groups need extra support, in particular, as she mentioned, black boys. To raise the attainment of black boys in London, the Government office for London is supporting voluntary and community sector organisations in developing new models of excellence in different areas. Another important aspect is supporting and recruiting teachers as positive role models. My hon. Friend has taken the initiative to achieve that aim, which the Government wholeheartedly support. I did not have much time to respond to my hon. Friend, but I shall write to her in more detail.


Order. Before we start the next debate, there will be some musical chairs. Some furniture in the Public Gallery needs to be moved, and I do not want it to disturb hon. Members while they are speaking. I understand that the hon. Member for Lewes is happy to take interventions during his speech. The Minister, too, is happy for that to happen. However, they must be interventions not speeches.

This is the third debate on Tibet that I have secured in my 11 years as a Member of Parliament. Today I am angrier, sadder and less hopeful than I was on the previous two occasions.

We should remember that the past 50 years has been a terrible time for Tibet. Religion has been denied the people. The basic essence of the Tibetan culture has been denied to the extent that the atheist state of China has taken it upon itself to determine the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama. The country has seen appalling human rights abuses, as bad as any in the world, with torture and arbitrary arrest being commonplace.

Tibet has seen a form of apartheid similar to that of South Africa’s, the quality of life available to Tibet’s indigenous population being less than that available to Chinese migrants there. We have also seen the destruction of the Tibetan way of life and architecture. I cannot remember the exact figure but about 6,000 monasteries were destroyed in the cultural revolution. Only 13 were left standing, which gives an idea of the scale of devastation visited upon Tibet by the Chinese over the past 50 years.

For all of that time, the Dalai Lama has advocated a policy of non-violence, of engagement. He has delivered everything that western countries and the world generally have asked of him, but the Chinese have delivered nothing in response—except for more human rights abuses. The Chinese have signed many bits of paper, but they have not moved forward. Sadly, as we have seen in recent days, they have moved backwards.

When the pressure cooker finally burst after 49 years, we saw demonstrations and slogan shouting—and, yes, probably the odd rock being thrown—but the reaction of the Chinese was completely over the top and unjustifiable in the extreme. More than 100 Tibetans lay dead. As The Sunday Times said in a headline, “Tibet: schoolchildren among dead in Chinese police ‘massacre’”. Hundreds more were injured, but were too frightened of going to hospital in case they were arrested. Hundreds have been arrested, including monks; allegedly some have been flown out of Tibet to mainland China. Based on China’s past performance, Tibetans must have expected that that reaction, which shows how desperate they are but also how extraordinarily brave.

What we take for granted in our country can be criminal offences in Tibet, punishable by long prison sentences and torture. Merely to have a photograph of the Dalai Lama or to shout “Tibet is free”, can land a person in prison for 15 or 20 years. Why is the mighty Chinese state so afraid of one monk?

Is one of the problems the fact that, despite people recognising the severity of the situation in Tibet, maps and the media all describe Tibet as the “Tibet Autonomous Region when in reality it is Chinese occupied Tibet?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is important to get the history right. China continually maintains that what happens in Tibet is an internal matter. It is not an internal matter because Tibet is not part of China. It is an occupied country. I believe that it was independent for hundreds of years, but it was certainly independent between 1911 and 1950. The United Kingdom has a special position in that respect; we were one of the few countries to have that dealt with Tibet during that period, and we can testify to Tibet’s status. Indeed, we signed detailed treaties with Tibet, including the Simla convention.

That may be history, but it is important in establishing how the international community should deal with Tibet. Only Britain can deliver on that. My first request to the Minister is that he should gently correct the historic record, and not allow the Chinese Government continually to say that Tibet has always been part of China. He knows that it has not.

The hon. Gentleman is right about the historical record, but would he concede that the Dalai Lama has made an historic compromise in calling for autonomy rather than independence? That compromise should have been taken up by the Chinese. May I also say that the current repression of Tibetans is worse than what happened in 1989 in Tiananmen square? It is the act of occupiers rather than of people who govern with consent.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. Indeed, I am grateful to colleagues from across the political spectrum for being here today; it is not a matter for one Member only but for Parliament. Members of all three parties are concerned about this serious matter. Indeed, as we have seen, people across the world are concerned, including the Indian football captain who refused yesterday to take part in the Indian leg of the Olympic torch relay, and the protesters in Greece when the torch was lit. The Chinese authorities have horrified the entire world with their actions.

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this debate. As he knows, we hear a great deal in relation to foreign policy about the advocacy of liberal values and the pursuit of human rights. Does he agree—I am sure that he does—that the Government and political parties have a responsibility to pursue those ends in the face of powerful countries such as China no less than in the face of less powerful ones?

That is true. I am sorry to say that the world’s reaction to the events in Burma—the Burmese Government were heavily criticised, and rightly so—was very different from the muted response to the Chinese crackdown in Tibet. I hope that the leading nations of the world, including those in NATO, the EU and G8, will come together to make it clear to the Chinese authorities that they are not happy—that is an understatement—that they are appalled by the action taken in Tibet.

I digress for a moment on the historical context. The “Today” programme continually refers to protests that happen “outside” Tibet. That is to misunderstand the boundaries of Tibet. Tibet includes areas that the Chinese annexed when setting up the Tibet Autonomous Region, but provinces such as Sichuan are part of Tibet. I am sorry to say that the “Today” programme refuses to correct that, although they have been informed of the error by me and others. That shows the arrogance of the programme; it will not always correct things that are wrong. I hope that the programme will do so in future.

The western world’s muted response is not something of which we can be proud. It contrasts with our condemnation of the Burmese regime. The stifled sounds of western Governments should be much louder and more forceful. They need to be forceful not only for the philosophical or ethical reasons, as the hon. Gentleman rightly said, but because time is limited. A railway has been built into Lhasa, and there is a mass migration of Chinese into Lhasa and Tibet generally, so Tibetans are becoming marginalised in their own country. We need a solution for Tibet in the next few years, and the Olympics is the key to putting pressure on the Chinese Government. Unless we take advantage of that, in five or 10 years’ time we will be arguing about an historical situation. Tibet is a wonderful country and it is sad to see it slipping away. I do not intend to let that happen without a fight, and I hope that Members on both sides will join me in that campaign.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for the work that he has done for Tibet over many years. He mentioned the Olympics. The Dalai Lama clearly has not asked for a boycott of the games, but there is growing international support for boycotting the opening ceremony. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that that would be used as a propaganda weapon by China? Does he agree also that it is quite outrageous that the Chinese ambassador in London should be carrying the Olympic torch—the torch of harmony—through the streets of London? Does he agree that everyone in London should be out on the streets protesting peacefully with the Tibetan flags and other placards about China?

I entirely welcome that intervention and I welcome the contribution that the hon. Lady has made on this and many similar matters. The action taken by the Chinese ambassador on Sunday quite unnecessarily stoked the flames and added insult to injury, and I hope that he will reconsider even at this late stage.

Let me use my last five minutes to suggest a number of actions to the Minister. First, however, I should say that the Government’s view on Tibet over the years has been helpful, because Britain, unlike most countries, has not accepted Chinese sovereignty over Tibet. The Government have a formula that they trot out, and I am sure that we will hear it from the Minister again today. Their position is that successive British Governments have regarded Tibet as autonomous while recognising the special position of the Chinese authorities there, and I expect to hear the Minister repeat those words back to me shortly.

The Government have also raised human rights matters in dialogue with China. I am not, therefore, criticising the Government. However, I urge the Minister to grasp the opportunity presented by the Olympics to move matters forward. Simply cajoling the Chinese authorities does not work, because they do not do anything; in fact, they go backwards. We need a gear change if we are to see action to save Tibet. The continuation of the present policy is not sufficient, and I hope that the Minister will accept that when he responds. Let me therefore suggest some points to the Minister.

First, I have suggested that the British, uniquely, have an opportunity and, indeed, a duty to set out the historical context so that the world will be aware that Tibet operated independently, at least between 1911 and 1950.

Secondly, the Government have rightly urged engagement between the Chinese authorities, the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Government in exile. That is correct as far as it goes, but I hope that the Minister will recognise that the six rounds of dialogue so far have been a farce because the Chinese authorities have given nothing at all in response to overtures from His Holiness the Dalai Lama. We are bound to conclude that the purpose of such dialogue is not to reach an accommodation, but to spin things out until after the Olympics and perhaps until the Dalai Lama is no longer with us on this planet. I hope that the Minister recognises that such engagement needs to be different, and my second request, therefore, is that the Government, along with like-minded Governments, should urge the Chinese authorities to hold real dialogue with the Dalia Lama; indeed, the Prime Minister referred to that at Prime Minister’s questions. That dialogue should also be independently chaired so that we know what is going on and we can measure how serious, or otherwise, the Chinese authorities are.

My third request is that the Government appeal to China’s self-interest. That may sound rather odd, but does China want to be the world’s pariah? I do not think that it does, although it is going that way at present. To return to the point made by the hon. Member for Leyton and Wanstead (Harry Cohen), China must also realise that it has a good offer on the table from the Dalai Lama. Notwithstanding the historical context, he has offered to accept Chinese sovereignty, which has no historical basis, provided that there is genuine autonomy. That is a good offer; it is certainly much better than the offer that the Chinese would get if the Dalai Lama was no longer there. Like others in the room, including my hon. Friend the Member for Teignbridge (Richard Younger-Ross) and hon. Gentleman, I have met young Tibetans, and plenty of them know that the next generation are not as peacefully minded. They are more frustrated and they are beginning to wonder what 49 years of non-violence have achieved. I am not advocating violence, but simply painting a reality—that is how people feel. The Chinese would therefore be better off doing a deal with the Dalai Lama than doing a deal after he has gone.

My fourth request is that the Government push the International Olympic Committee and the British Olympic Association to do something. When the Chinese were awarded the Olympics, they made promises about human rights and free access for journalists, but they have not kept those promises. In fact, the human rights situation is worse, and access for journalists is either non-existent or highly controlled, as we saw when journalists visited Lhasa the other day on some sort of official package tour. What will the BOA do? When will it break its vow of silence, come out and demand that the Chinese adhere to the conditions that they promised to keep to? I hope that the Minister will join me in encouraging the IOC and BOA to do something other than pretend that this is all a horrible dream that will go away.

The British Olympic Association has imposed a gag on British Olympic competitors. Should they not lift that gag?

I understand that it has in fact lifted the gag under some pressure, but the hon. Gentleman is quite right that there was a gag in the first place. It is an absolute disgrace that people should be gagged in a country where there is free speech.

That relates to my next point. My fifth point is that the Minister should reiterate the helpful view of his Foreign Office colleague in the House of Lords that UK athletes are free to make comments about Tibet if they wish to do so. No one is forcing them to do so, but if they want to comment, they should be free to do so without fear of reprisal or sanction. If, when they are in China, they say that Tibet should be free, the British Government should protect them.

My sixth request is that the Government press Ban Ki-moon to send a special mission to Tibet to investigate the situation. He can do that without approval from the Security Council, where the Chinese would doubtless veto such a move. As the Minister will know, there is a precedent for such a mission from 1985, which involved Nigeria.

My next request is that the United Nations Committee on Human Rights send a special rapporteur to Tibet to report back on human rights abuses. I hope that the Government will agree that this and my previous request should be supported.

Next, I ask the Government to work with NATO, the EU and the G8 to produce a statement of condemnation, which has so far been sadly lacking.

Lastly—the Minister will not agree with this, but he should hold it in reserve—we should not rule out boycotting the opening ceremony. We should see how matters develop, but we should not rule out such a move.

The world has let Tibet down very badly over the past 50 years and it has a duty to repair that damage. This country, in particular, has a duty to do so, given our historical links with Tibet. The international community must come together to defend the peace-loving people of Tibet. The Chinese Government can kill, maim and torture under the auspices of patriotic re-education, and they can destroy and marginalise, but they will never destroy the spirit of the Tibetan people and they will never win their hearts and minds.

It is a great pleasure to serve in the debate under your chairmanship, Mr. Wilshire. I congratulate the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) on proposing this topic for debate at such an important moment.

Like the hon. Gentleman, many of us have been extremely troubled by the recent scenes of violence and unrest in Lhasa and other Tibetan areas. As he knows, the Prime Minister also takes a close personal interest. If I may, I should like to set out the situation as it stands, the underlying issues that the recent unrest has highlighted and our strategy on the way forward.

First, let me deal with the situation as it stands today. The demonstrations that began peacefully in Lhasa on 10 March, and which developed into outbursts of violence on 14 March, have now subsided. Unrest was still being reported in the provinces surrounding the so-called Tibet Autonomous Region after an uneasy calm had been restored to Lhasa itself. Official estimates of the casualties have been steadily increasing, and the authorities admitted on Friday that three of the 18 people officially reported dead were Tibetans. As we all know, the Tibetan Government in exile puts the figure much higher, at about 140.

Groups of journalists and diplomats have been taken to Lhasa on specially organised visits by the authorities, and our embassy in Beijing participated in that visit. However, it remains impossible to gain access to the TAR independently. As the hon. Gentleman said, there also remain severe restrictions on access to the surrounding provinces, and there is a significant security presence across Tibetan-populated areas, many of which, as he reminded us, are a long way from the TAR’s present borders.

As we have heard, the Dalai Lama called again in a statement on 28 March for restraint and for a resolution of the underlying issues through dialogue. My hon. Friend the Member for Leyton and Wanstead (Harry Cohen) quite properly spoke of the significance of that statement, and it is groundbreaking. Despite that, the Chinese authorities continue to point the finger of blame for the violence firmly at the Dalai Lama and his supporters.

The rioting in Lhasa has been on a scale unseen since 1989, and the unrest elsewhere in Tibetan-populated areas is unprecedented. The current situation of Tibet is a vivid demonstration of many of the human rights concerns that we, as a country that aims to uphold international human rights standards across the world, find most troubling. The first, of course, is freedom of religion. We believe strongly that ordinary Tibetans must enjoy the right to live according to their traditions and customs. I pay tribute to the work that the hon. Gentleman has done over the years in pointing out the fact that special protection is needed for that precious culture and language, and that that does not mean being opposed to immigration—I am sure that, like me, he is not against immigration into this or other countries.

Freedom of expression is also necessary. There is no doubt that the demonstrations last month involved widespread violence, and in that situation the authorities in China, like those of anywhere else, are of course entitled to use proportionate force to quell them. Equally, however, where demonstrations are peaceful, like the first ones in Lhasa on 10 March, the right of individuals to make their views known, in Tibet or anywhere else, must be upheld. Peaceful advocacy of any cause—even one deeply unattractive to the Government—should not be criminalised, and journalists and others should enjoy the right to witness and report objectively on what they see. That is extremely important.

With wide scale arrests of those allegedly involved in the demonstrations, our focus must of course turn to trying to ensure the right to due process for those who have been detained. I know that in the short time available to him the hon. Gentleman did not have time to talk about that, but I am sure that he agrees with me that it is very important. We raised the issue last week at the organised visit to Lhasa by diplomats, and we were pleased with the verbal commitment from the authorities that those who protested peacefully during the journalists’ visit earlier last week would not be charged. However, we have not yet received a response to the international request made during the diplomats’ visit—it is not just this country that has been making the calls—for access to the trials of those alleged to have been involved in the unrest.

The underlying human rights issues in Tibet are concerns that have been addressed regularly at the highest level in recent discussions between my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary and their Chinese counterparts. We have also pursued them through our bilateral dialogue with China on human rights, and through programmes funded through non-governmental organisations and research institutions. The last round of our bilateral rights dialogue, for example, included a field trip to Tibet. I was quite sceptical when I read about that, but we took a very interesting party there. There were experts on, among other things, devolution: devolving power realistically and effectively. That is something that we could certainly debate here, although there is not time at the moment.

As to our response to the current situation, when violence erupted the United Kingdom’s response was fast and firm. Ministers went on the record as soon as the news broke of demonstrations becoming violent. The Prime Minister discussed the crisis in person with Premier Wen on 19 March and the Foreign Secretary discussed it with Foreign Minister Yang on 21 and 28 March. Further regular contact has been maintained with the Chinese embassy in London and through the Foreign Ministry in Beijing. I should like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to those officials who have worked round the clock to keep on top of the rapidly unfolding events.

The Minister has referred to the Prime Minister intervening quickly and discussing the matter with Premier Wen. It was good that he did so, but he reported to the House of Commons on 19 March that the Premier told him that

“subject to two things that the Dalai Lama has already said—that he does not support the total independence of Tibet and that he renounces violence—he would be prepared to enter into dialogue with the Dalai Lama.”—[Official Report, 19 March 2008; Vol. 473, c. 915.]

Will the Minister elaborate on that? Will there be face-to-face talks between Premier Wen and the Dalai Lama, and would not it be better for them to happen sooner, rather than later?

I certainly cannot give my hon. Friend any more information on that than he already has. If more becomes available I undertake to write to him and to copy the letter to the hon. Member for Lewes.

All along, our messages to both sides have been consistent and the Prime Minister will repeat them to the Dalai Lama when he meets him in London next month. They are: there should be an end to violence by those demonstrating and by the forces reacting to the demonstrations; there should be no use of excessive force by the authorities against those involved in violence, and no force should be used against those demonstrating peacefully; there must be due process for those detained; and there should also be an urgent resumption of the transparent and meaningful dialogue that the hon. Gentleman said is needed between Beijing and the Dalai Lama to resolve the underlying issues. I have no doubt that such face-to-face discussions as my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton and Wanstead mentioned would help.

We have been extremely active with international partners. We supported the EU presidency statement on 17 March and action in the UN Human Rights Council on 25 March. We participated in an extensive discussion of Tibet at the Gymnich, the informal EU Foreign Ministers’ meeting, last week. The Prime Minister has discussed the situation in Tibet with Presidents Bush and Sarkozy, and it is hoped that he will be able to meet Ban Ki-moon, the Secretary-General of the UN, to discuss the issue, in the margins of this week’s NATO summit in Bucharest.

Does the Minister agree with me that the way forward is through dialogue with the Chinese, and between the Chinese and the Tibetans, but that the dialogue is not particularly helped by a one-sided presentation of the facts, which ignores, for example, the violence against the Han Chinese in Tibet? Does he agree equally that it is not the best way forward to use the Olympic Games as a means of pressurising the Chinese, or to condemn the Chinese ambassador, who incidentally is a she not a he, for doing what is entirely proper in the circumstances and bearing the torch as a representative of her country?

My hon. Friend raises some important issues, and I agree with him on this: there should be no attacks on Han Chinese or anyone else in the streets of Lhasa, or any other city. I know that my hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Lewes would agree on that 100 per cent. It does no good to any cause when people are attacked in that way. The action of mobs can never be condoned. We must of course be very careful when we try to rationalise or defend such attacks simply because they are occurring to an ethnic minority or outsiders. We have seen the results of that all too often in the world.

In the few moments left to me I want to answer some of the points raised by the hon. Gentleman. Our priority must certainly be to ensure that the tense situation on the ground does not develop into violence or lead to further repression. That means making it clear to the authorities, but also to Tibetan groups, that we believe in peaceful resolution of the underlying problems in Tibet, not the use of force. However, the point that the hon. Gentleman made is the right one: there must be dialogue. Whether such events flare up every 30 years—they seem to happen, anyway, in the year before the end of each of our decades—it is not good enough. We cannot leave things to fester. There must be real dialogue.

Our priority also means pressing for unrestricted access to the region. I am sure that one of the answers is transparency. It is always a mistake—and we have tried it at times in our own history—to try to hide what happens. Those things will bubble to the surface and the sense of frustration increases. We need to get a clearer picture of the situation on the ground in Tibet. Of course we worry about the way in which the character of the country is changing, but some things can change for the better. Those will include, if some of the news that we get from Beijing, rather than from India, is true, building hospitals, schools and infrastructure. The Tibetan people should have the opportunity to have those things, but underpinning that must be the sense that their political aspirations and sense of identity should not be stifled and stymied in any way.

We welcome last week’s organised visit by journalists and diplomats, but, given that the security situation is apparently calm, we see no reason for access to Tibet and the surrounding provinces to continue to be restricted for those who wish to travel independently. It happened in the past: why should not it happen now? More generally we have welcomed the media regulations that were put in place for the Olympics, which provide for freedom of movement for foreign journalists around most of China. However, we believe firmly that those should be expanded to cover the whole country and should be applied to domestic journalists as well as foreigners and be extended beyond October. We shall continue to urge China to lift all restrictions on freedom of access to Tibet and the surrounding provinces for journalists and others wishing to visit, as long as the security situation allows. That is in China’s own interests.

It being Two o’clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the sitting lapsed, without Question put.