HC Deb 08 November 1973 vol 863 cc1166-7
02. Mr. Whitehead

asked the Prime Minister if he will seek to pay an official visit to Ethiopia.

The Prime Minister

I have at present no plans to visit Ethiopia.

Mr. Whitehead

When the Prime Minister is next in touch with the Ethiopian Government, will he take the opportunity to repeat, at the highest level, the pledges which his right hon. Friend has given about aid to Ethiopia? Will he also repeat that we will provide air transport and Land Rovers to get the aid to the province concerned? Is he aware that there are serious allegations coming out of Ethiopia about the degree to which news of the famine was suppressed and that people who have gone to Wollo Province to try to help have been arrested? When did he first get news of this famine through the embassy in Addis Ababa?

The Prime Minister

I agree with the hon. Gentleman, and everyone in the House will agree about the serious situation. Our ambassador, by 12th July, had enough information to recommend a substantial contribution to the relief effort. We thereupon acted immediately with our initial offer for the food-for-work programme. I shall certainly take into account the point made by the hon. Gentleman about ensuring that sufficient transport is available for delivery of all the supplies which we are making available.

Sir Bernard Braine

Is my right hon. Friend aware that those of us who have been trying to get help to Ethiopia since the summer are satisfied that Her Majesty's Government have met requests from the Ethiopian authorities promptly? Does my right hon. Friend agree that the lesson we have learned from this tragic experience is that there is a pressing need for much more effective early warning procedures and international co-operation in dealing with acute food shortages before the onset of famine? Will he therefore use his influence within the European Community to get action upon these lines?

The Prime Minister

We are prepared to do everything that we can to try to get the earliest possible information. As I have said, we were relying upon the evidence which had been accumulated by our ambassador, and obviously we cannot be responsible for information which is passed by other people. At the same time, it is often a matter of judgment whether food supplies will be sufficient to see a country through or whether it will need substantial assistance. My hon. Friend is right in saying that we ought to do everything possible to foresee difficulties. There is general agreement that the British Government have done everything they possibly can to help.

Mr. Oram

The whole House will support all measures taken to relieve the situation, but is not the long-term lesson to be drawn that prevention is better than cure? Does not this imply that there should be a greatly expanded official aid programme, particularly for the provision of the necessary rural infrastructure, which has been proved to be deplorably absent in Ethiopia?

The Prime Minister

I agree with the hon. Gentleman, who has great expertise in this matter, that the creation of the necessary rural infrastructure is one of the most important steps we can take to benefit developing countries.