HC Deb 16 January 1978 vol 942 cc212-22

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Tinn.]

11.45 p.m.

Mr. Ian Gow (Eastbourne)

On 14th November the Minister of State for Overseas Development gave the House details of the amount of financial assistance being given by the United Kingdom to Mozambique. There are three elements in that assistance: first, interest-free loans totalling £10 million in order to buy British goods; second, £10 million of aid to finance three electric power projects and for rural roads; third, 5,000 tons of food aid.

Following the Minister's statement, my hon. Friend the Member for Shoreham (Mr. Luce) wrote to her to express the deep concern of the Conservative Party about the Government's decision to give aid to Mozambique. My hon. Friend's letter dated 18th November and the Minister's reply of 1st December have both been published. Since then, on Monday of last week, the Parliamentary Secretary told the House that the Minister would be making a further statement about the additional financial assistance to Mozambique "very soon".

The debate is therefore timely. I believe that the Government's existing aid programme is entirely misconceived. Any decision to give still more financial assistance to Mozambique will, I believe, be greatly resented in the country. This is so for three main reasons. The Government believe, as I believe, that there is a substantial and growing military threat to the United Kingdom from the Soviet bloc. Indeed, in last week's White Paper on Public Expenditure the Government, having reduced defence expenditure dangerously in previous years, announced their proposal to increase defence spending in real terms in each of the next three financial years. That is being done primarily because the Government themselves recognise the increasing threat from the Soviet bloc. But Mozambique is now firmly in the Soviet bloc. It has become Russia's principal foothold in Africa.

Mr. Bruce George (Walsall, South)

And Somalia.

Mr. Gow

At the third conference of Frelimo at Maputo last February, representatives from the Communist Parties of the Soviet Union, East Germany, Bulgaria, Rumania and Cuba pledged their support for President Machel in the armed struggle to liberate what it described as imperialism in Southern Africa.

Frelimo is, as the Minister well knows, a Marxist-Leninist revolutionary party dedicated to achieving its aims by totalitarian methods, and by armed force. There can be no justification for giving financial assistance to a country whose policies are deeply hostile to the interests of the United Kingdom, closely allied to those of the Soviet Union, which is the principal military threat to the NATO Alliance of which this country is a member, and which in all international matters may be relied upon to take the side of our enemies rather than that of our friends.

Second, Mozambique is not only providing a springbroad for Russian penetration of Southern Africa; it is also a base and training ground for terrorists who are maiming and murdering the Queen's subjects, mainly black, in Rhodesia.

The Foreign Secretary has condemned violence in Rhodesia. The Minister herself told the House that she hoped that there would be a peaceful solution to the Rhodesia problem."—[Official Report, 14th November 1977; Vol. 938, c. 29.] But that is not the view of President Machel of Mozambique. He is an enthusiastic supporter of Mr. Mugabe, who has said repeatedly that he intends to take Rhodesia through the barrel of a gun.

Why could not the Government have said to the Mozambique Government "Unless you repudiate violence in Rhodesia and put a stop to the use of Mozambique as a training ground for terrorists, there can be no more aid"?

Lastly, the regime in Maputo is emphatically not one which merits financial assistance from the British taxpayer. In my view, the Government rightly discontinued their aid programmes to Uganda and to Bolivia on the ground that basic human rights were being abused in both those countries. When the right hon. Lady went to Maputo, was she impressed by the numbers in prison without trial, by the activities of the secret police, by the total Press censorship and by all the hideous apparatus of the totalitarian State?

Of course, there is sickening poverty in Mozambique. But every pound of aid that we give bolsters up the Communist regime there, means that Russia and Cuba have to give less, and prevents our giving to people who are even poorer than the people of Mozambique, whose need is greater, whose rulers are not engaged on a systematic and deliberate denial of human rights, and who are not supporting a terrorist war against British subjects.

I believe that the Government have their priorities wrong about financial aid to Mozambique. As my hon. Friend the Member for Shoreham said in his letter to the right hon. Lady, There are plenty of Commonwealth countries suffering from equally serious poverty and whose need is equally great. The Minister made an astonishing statement in her reply to my hon. Friend. She praised the co-operation of President Machel in the British Government's efforts to achieve a peaceful settlement in Rhodesia. The Minister cannot really believe that. Everyone knows that of all the so-called front-line Presidents Mr. Machel has the strongest commitment to violence and to the virtues of the one-party State. He is the most enthusiastic supporter of revolutionary terror as the precondition for a Marxist takeover in Rhodesia.

In the same letter, the Minister said that she had no evidence to suggest that there was any fundamental abuse of human rights in Mozambique. Will the Parliamentary Secretary really be saying, in his reply to this debate, that our ambassador in Maputo has not told the Foreign Secretary of arbitrary arrests, imprisonment without trial, the total absence of political freedom, no free Press, no free speech, and no right to public criticism of the Government?

The Minister went on to say in that same letter that she had introduced a number of safeguards in our aid procedures to ensure that goods supplied are used for the civil purposes cited when orders are accepted. What are these procedures? The British people will be most interested to know what guarantees the Government have that aid will not benefit the terrorists, either directly or indirectly. I believe that there can be no guarantees. The Minister said in her letter to my hon. Friend that the roads and power projects we had agreed to finance were all well away from the areas affected by terrorist activities. Even if that were true, it still enables the Mozambique Government to divert their own resources into building roads along the western border with Rhodesia to facilitate the movement of troops.

It is not impossible that even after the British Government have granted legal independence to Zimbabwe an attack on that country will be mounted from Mozambique. That is not a fanciful idea. It was hinted at by the Foreign Secretary himself in a broadcast on BBC radio and television on 16th April. He said: Now that the advantages of having a proper electoral process and transfer of power to a new Government on the sort of structure I have been suggesting, is that the West would support that"— these words I emphasise— and if some people then wanted to go on fighting in the bush, maybe because they were disappointed with the election result, then that Government being democratically elected would have the right to expect the support of the West to be sustained by the West. In September the Government published their proposals for a settlement in Rhodesia. Among the fundamental rights referred to in the draft independence constitution were: a right to life; a right to liberty of the person; protection from inhuman treatment; protection from deprivation of property; right to privacy of home and other property; the right to fair trial in civil and criminal proceedings; freedom of conscience and expression; the right of individuals, groups and communities to establish and maintain schools at their own expense provided they are not operated on a discriminatory basis; freedom of association; freedom of movement; and freedom from discrimination.

If one tests the Government of Mozambique against these criteria, which constitute the very proposals of the Government for the new independence constitution of Zimbabwe, one sees how far removed the Government of Mozambique are from them. How many of these principles would the Mozambique Government accept, and, if they did accept them, how many are actually in existence in Mozambique?

When the Government decided to end their financial aid to Bolivia and Uganda, they accepted the proposition that there are certain circumstances in which the Government should discontinue an aid programme previously thought to be right. I believe that these criteria should be applied with impartiality to Mozambique. For that reason I have raised this issue tonight, in the hope that the Minister will reconsider not only the existing aid programme but what he said on Monday about plans to increase financial assistance to Mozambique. Such an increase would be unjustified and unjustifiable.

11.58 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Overseas Development (Mr. John Tomlinson)

I have listened with interest, but not surprise, to the points raised by the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow).

First of all, on the answer the hon. Member received to his question on Monday—it was not exactly as he has stated in the House. He asked a specific question and I said that my right hon. Friend was making a statement shortly. I have made no statement about increased aid to Mozambique, and he knows that quite well.

Tonight we are discussing British financial assistance to Mozambique and not the Southern African situation as a whole, or the latest stage in the search for a settlement in Rhodesia, so I shall not proceed on either of those two points. I shall therefore confine my remarks to British development assistance for Mozambique which I imagine is what the hon. Member had in mind when he raised the subject of financial assistance.

The overall programme of British development assistance is supported by many hon. Members on both sides of the House, and I hope we all agree that the main and continuing emphasis in our programme should be on the poorest countries, and on the poorest groups within those countries. Mozambique, because of the events leading up to its independence in 1975 and that Government's decision to impose United Nations sanctions against Rhodesia, is without doubt among the group of the poorest countries. The United Nations Secretariat, in a report in the spring of 1976, concluded that on the evidence available Mozambique's gross domestic product was about US $180 per head. The United Nations has recently repeated this estimate. The United Nations has suggested that even before independence, Mozambique's income per head was over-stated owing to, for example, under-enumeration of the population and the shaky basis used for computing national income. Even before independence, Mozambique's economy was seriously affected by the war of liberation and the general dislocation associated with it, and the downturn in the prospects for some of its cash crops, the departure of the vast majority of the Portuguese on independence, the delayed impact of higher energy prices, and the consequence of the imposition of United Nations sanctions. All these combined to make the position cumulatively and, rapidly, very serious indeed.

The imposition of sanctions was very important because the economy of Mozambique has always historically gained much from the transit of goods from, and the provision of services for, Rhodesia, South Africa, Malawi and Swaziland. The United Nation's first estimate was that the imposition of sanctions cost Mozambique US $135 million—US $155 million per year, of which a substantial share was due to the loss of provision of services. Since March 1976, the position has become substantially worse, because of crop failures, severe flooding and other natural disasters, and also the impact of the growing numbers of Rhodesian refugees, the devastation caused by Rhodesian armed attacks, and the diminution of migrant worker remittances from South Africa.

The latest United Nations report, which appeared before the further damage caused by Rhodesian raids in November, suggested that Mozambique needed US $87 million, plus substantial food aid, very urgently. We are now considering the follow-up to this report. However, I believe the British aid programme has already been well-tailored to Mozambique's needs. Programme support is called for—we signed a £5 million programme loan in 1976 and another one in 1977. Technical co-operation is clearly called for—and the United Kingdom is a substantial contributor to the special multilateral Commonwealth Fund for Mozambique.

I might mention that a very large share of this fund's projects will use British firms and personnel. Food assistance is called for, and under the European Community programme, the United Kingdom has provided a bilateral action of 5,000 tonnes of soft wheat for Northern Mozambique. A continuing contribution to Mozambique's economic development and infrastructure plans is called for and the United Kingdom is financing power and roads projects under its £10 million project loan. Support for refugees is called for and we provided £100,000 in 1976–77 to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees for this purpose. The House will know, from the repeated Questions on the subject, that the Government of Mozambique agree that British assistance should be used for peaceful purposes only. There is no question of its being used for military purposes.

The hon. Gentleman asked me about safeguards. I wish to say quite clearly that the Government of Mozambique have accepted British development assistance for peaceful and developmental purposes only, and we have an arrangement for monitoring development assistance which has been agreed with the Government of Mozambique. The Government of Mozambique certify the end use of the goods ordered under the programme loan agreements before the ordering of goods and the disbursement of funds.

In the case of both the programme and the project loans, British Embassy officials in Maputo are able to inspect goods and documents. Slightly different arrangements apply to the project loans and the programme loans. The project loans have no separate procedure for certification and use of goods. This is not always necessary. The location of projects being supported is well known and they are well away from the battle fields.

The hon. Gentleman raised the question of human rights and the political complexion of the Government of Mozambique. Despite what he said, we have no evidence that would justify an approach to the United Nations Commission for Human Rights. I wish that, along with his proper concern for human rights in Mozambique, the hon. Gentleman would demonstrate a less selective myopia and turn his attention to some of the Right-wing dictatorships throughout the world. He seems to have an obsession about one country. It is right that he should be concerned if he feels that human rights are being denied in Mozambique, but we would be more impressed if he had more general concern about the application of some of the principles that he has recited.

The political character of governments in the Third world is not the primary factor when considering British support. British development assistance is for people—and above all the poorest people, where possible. But whatever the views about the Government of Mozambique, I ask the House to take into account not only the fact that Mozambique has a part to play in reaching a settlement in Rho desia but that there is a need to help the Government of Mozambique in demonstrating their non-alignment. It is precisely the attitude of the hon. Member for Eastbourne and those who support him—whom I do not believe to be representative of public opinion—that will drive Governments such as that in Mozambique into the hands of those of whom he is so frightened.

There is increasing evidence of Mozambique's desire to co-operate with Western Europe and elsewhere. In the European Community, Germany, France, Italy and Denmark are providing support. The Community has done so and I hope that Mozambique will soon decide to accede to the Lomé Convention. The Scandinavian countries as a whole are assisting, as have the United States and Canada.

From Questions in the House last week, the hon. Gentlemen will know that 50 countries and United Nations specialised agencies are involved in providing assistance to Mozambique.

Many Commonwealth countries have provided direct or indirect help. If Britain were to turn its back on Mozambique's needs, ignoring the appeals of the Commonwealth Heads of Government and the repeated reports and resolutions of the United Nations, Mozambique's development assistance and political options would be needlessly narrowed, perhaps only to the benefit of countries in Eastern Europe about which the hon. Gentleman is allegedly so concerned.

Nor should we neglect the importance of British development assistance in the trade context. There is still substantial British investment in Mozambique—I have particularly in mind the Sena sugar company. The Government of Mozambique do not appear to be hostile to external private investments as a matter of principle. There are problems over compensation for previous British investment in property in Mozambique, but this is a special case, and negotiations with the Government there are being pursued separately. Mozambique's shortages of skill provide great potential opportunities for British expertise; the expansion of the British bilateral technical co-operation programme in the future should help here, and I have already mentioned the success that British firms have achieved in the context of the Commonwealth Fund for Mozambique. Mozambique is a vast country, with important potentially exploitable resources. When it overcomes the enormous problems that it faces, in the long run it will be a useful trading partner for the United Kingdom.

I suggest that the British aid programme for Mozambique may have received exaggerated attention in the House. In disbursement terms, it has not, and will not for a long while, bulk large in the aid programme as a whole. Implementation of the pledges made to date will take place over a number of years—one simply cannot put up a power station overnight. Indeed, I am beginning to feel that the programme for Mozambique, which is much in line with the Ministry's normal pattern of operations elsewhere in the Third world, has suffered from over-exposure. There have been some 70 parliamentary Questions in both Houses since 1975.

Those Members of this House who have heard repeated ministerial statements about the programme but who still seek additional information would do well to go to Mozambique to see for themselves, especially those who find it so easy to get to Rhodesia. They would find it advantageous to take the short on-journey from there to visit Mozambique. If they did they might realise that the needs of that country are enormous, that British support is trying constructively to meet its normal development needs, and that the British development programme is not, as suggested, some form of direct or indirect assitance for military or other purposes but a positive development response to the needs of a country with an important role in Southern Africa.

As I have said, we have a later report from the United Nations secretariat, which is being studied. It is on the basis of the conclusion of the study of the report that my hon. Friend will, as I said in response to Questions last week, be making a further statement very shortly.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at eleven minutes past Twelve o'clock.