HC Deb 25 February 1985 vol 74 cc17-8
46. Mr. Stuart Holland

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what are his priority objectives for food aid and its distribution in the drought-affected countries of sub-Saharan Africa.

Mr. Raison

The relief of famine victims most in need in Africa is our priority. We shall provide bilaterally at least 110,000 tonnes of grain in 1985, of which 25,000 tonnes have already reached Ethiopia and Sudan. We meet the costs of internal distribution, and have financed improvements in handling capacities at the ports and inland.

Mr. Holland

While those sums sound impressive, and while we are glad that the Minister has been able to visit Sudan, he must realise that his earlier reply about Tigré is inadequate. It is not true to say that substantial food aid from Ethiopia is reaching Tigré. It is receiving less than 2,000 tonnes a month, when it needs 20,000 tonnes a month. The right hon. Gentleman told the House that Mr. Jansson of the United Nations is most concerned that food aid should go to those areas, but Mr. Jansson has stressed that food aid is not being adequately distributed. Further, in terms of the EC aid to which the Minister referred, when will he see the Commissioners and ensure that the aid is distributed rather than simply awaiting distribution?

Mr. Raison

The hon. Gentleman has got it wrong. He has ignored the fact that substantial quantities of food go into Eritrea and Tigré from the Ethiopian side. I fully accept that not all needs in the rebel-held areas are met from that source, which is why we stress the importance of other sources being created. I hope soon to visit the newly appointed Commissioner at the EC who is responsible for development activities.

Mr. John Townend

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the United Nations Organisation should have the same priorities as this country? Is it not a scandal that it is spending millions of pounds financing a conference centre when the money could be better spent on food aid or agricultural development?

Mr. Raison

I agree that that venture is entirely uncalled for now, and we have opposed it. However, I do not argue that all the activities of those who work for the United Nations in this area are abortive. I have seen good work carried out by several agencies and by Mr. Jansson, the co-ordinator in Addis Ababa.

47. Mr. Deakins

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what provision is made in the aid budget for contingencies such as the famine in sub-Saharan Africa.

Mr. Raison

The bulk of the aid programme is focused on longer-term development, but an element is held back at the beginning of each financial year — some £45 million in 1984–85—to enable us to respond to urgent new requirements, including emergency relief, arising within the year.

Mr. Deakins

Do we not need an increase in the overall aid budget in total? Will the Minister press this on his skinflint colleagues in the Treasury so that unexpected needs, which are likely to loom larger and larger as the years go by—not merely in Africa but in other parts of the world—can be met without cutting back on other essential parts of our development budget?

Mr. Raison

The Government are committed to the control of public expenditure, but within our aid programme we set aside substantial sums of money to meet famines and disasters such as those that we have been seeing, and we shall continue to do so.

Dr. Mawhinney

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many of my constituents are most appreciative of the generosity of the Government and of the leadership that he has shown in this matter, but that they would also want him to be aware of their hope that, in the face of this unprecedented crisis, an arbitrary restriction on the aid budget will not be allowed to stand in the way of humanitarian relief?

Mr. Raison

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for what he has said about our contribution. As to our aid budget and the humanitarian considerations, it is obviously essential, as I have already stressed, to make sure that within that budget there is proper provision for emergencies. That is what we have done, and that is what we intend to continue doing.

Mr. Hardy

Will the Minister confirm that he and his Department expect that the horrific experience of Ethiopia and the Sudan in recent months is likely to be repeated, perhaps more intensely, in the years ahead? Will he guarantee that there will be even more attention to prevention rather than to the necessary relief?

Mr. Raison

It is always important to stress the vital importance of long-term prevention and the development programme. I have given figures for relief. Our total aid expenditure in Africa last year was about £225 million. In other words, we have a substantial development programme and a great deal of that is directed towards building up the agriculture of that continent.

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