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Volume 510: debated on Wednesday 2 June 2010

The British Government are deeply concerned by the humanitarian emergency in Sudan. Recent fighting, particularly in Darfur and southern Sudan, is causing further suffering and displacement. In 2010, we will provide emergency food, medicine, shelter, water and sanitation for up to 5 million people. We continue to urge the Government of Sudan and rebel movements to improve access and security for humanitarian workers.

In congratulating the right hon. Gentleman on his appointment, may I ask that he assures the House that, as a priority, this Government will continue to focus on Sudan? Will he bring the House up to date by giving us his assessment of the current situation in east Sudan?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his comments, and I pay tribute to his consistent work on Sudan over recent years. He will be aware that nearly 300,000 people have died in Darfur as a result of this emergency: 2 million people are displaced, 2.4 million are on food aid, and fighting is still going on in Jebel Mara and Jebel Moon. He will also be aware that this conflict has internationalised itself across the border into Chad, where there are already 250,000 Sudanese refugees, as well as into the Central African Republic.

Tomorrow, the UN emergency relief co-ordinator will brief the UN Security Council on his recent visit. The British Government will look carefully at what he says about the humanitarian situation in Sudan, and consider whether further action is necessary.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his appointment to the Cabinet. What is Her Majesty’s Government’s view on next year’s national referendum? He will no doubt have taken soundings from Ministers throughout Europe. It is absolutely vital that the referendum is undertaken in the correct way, in order to bring stable Government so that we can see that humanitarian relief and aid are put in the right place.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the critical importance of the referendum on the border between southern and northern Sudan, and we are watching the position extremely carefully. He will be aware that the situation in Darfur that I have described is in many ways mirrored by what is going on in the south, where he will know that there has been an acute rise in food shortage and where more than £70 million of British humanitarian relief is going in this year. I can give him the undertaking that we will continue to work hard to ensure that the referendum is conducted freely, fairly and successfully, and that we are prepared for the results.

I add my own congratulations to the right hon. Gentleman, and send best wishes to him and his team—for now. Given that we are still a long way from meeting the millennium development goals, particularly in Sudan, how will he and his colleagues use the remaining four months before the UN’s poverty summit to help rebuild the international momentum needed to achieve the goals? Will not one telling signal of the new Government’s willingness to show leadership on this issue be whether they bring forward legislation to put the UN’s aid target of 0.7% on the statute book before that September summit?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his warm wishes for now. On the second part of his question, he will have seen in the coalition document that we are committed to enshrining in legislation our commitment to an aid target of 0.7 % of gross national income by 2013. If he will bide his time in patience, he will see that that is precisely what we will do. On his first point about the critical importance of taking forward the agenda on the MDGs, which is so off-track at present, he will be interested to hear that the Prime Minister will meet the Prime Minister of Canada tomorrow to discuss the approach of the G8 to the MDGs. In particular, in respect of MDG 5 concerning maternal mortality, which is so off-track, we have specific plans to try and give that a boost.