HC Deb 01 May 1974 vol 872 cc1147-9
45. Mr. Hooley

asked the Minister of Overseas Development when was the most recent date on which the Council of Ministers of the EEC considered proposals for the relief of famine in the Sahel region of West Africa; what decisions it took; and when this matter will be considered again.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Overseas Development (Mr. William Price)

On 10th December 1973 the Council approved provision in the 1974 Community budget totalling 40 million units of account—that is, the equivalent of about £17 million—for relief and rehabilitation. It also agreed that 130,000 tons of cereals, 6,000 tons of butter oil and 14,000 tons of skimmed milk powder should be sent to these countries.

Mr. Hooley

I congratulate my hon. Friend on the special interest he personally has taken in this disastrous situation and on taking the trouble to look at the matter on the ground for himself. Will he tell us what planning is now going on to deal with what is clearly a long-term disaster area in Africa, where the problem might stretch over a number of years? Is any serious effort being made to set up a planning organisation in Brussels that would look in depth at the problem and provide long-term assistance?

Mr. Price

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his remarks. I have just spent 10 days in the drought area, and I have seen sights that I shall never forget. A massive international operation is under way, with 700,000 tons of food being sent to the area, but there is a good deal of evidence that much of that aid is arriving late. We are having detailed discussions with everyone concerned in order to speed up the operation and ensure that no problems arise in future. The question of long-term planning is under active consideration both in my Ministry and in Brussels. In my view, this is a matter of overriding concern.

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

Is the hon. Gentleman satisfied that the administration of this aid is being carried out satisfactorily? Is there not a crying need for Europe to send in administrators to ensure that the aid gets to those who are in most need of it?

Mr. Price

I think that there have been problems, and there still are problems. We are doing all we can to sort them out, but I think it is fair to say that had it not been for the international operation many millions of people would be dead.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

While welcoming everything that can be done to help the people of this region, may I take it that in this and in other disasters that may occur there will be no ideological consideration in the matter and we shall try to give help to people who need it?

Mr. Price

I do not quite know what the hon. Gentleman means. I saw thousands of children dying on their feet. As far as I am concerned, that is not a matter of ideology; it is a simple matter of getting food to people who are desperate.

Mr. Brocklebank-Fowler

In considering what assistance the EEC countries might give in circumstances like this, what account will Her Majesty's Government take of the recent report by the Select Committee on Overseas Development, and when do they expect to respond to its recommendations?

Mr. Price

We shall certainly take due note of all that has been said by the Select Committee. The answer to the second part of the question is that my right hon. Friend will deal with the report in due course.