HC Deb 23 February 1987 vol 111 cc16-7
60. Mr. Stuart Holland

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what measures he is taking to seek to prevent the re-emergence of famine in sub-Saharan Africa.

The Minister for Overseas Development (Mr. Chris Patten)

We are working with the Governments of the affected countries, and other donors, including the international organisations, to help cope with the complex problems of famine. We seek to help increase indigenous food production, to prevent desertification, to develop food security and early warning systems, and to ensure that measures to avert famine can be taken swiftly.

We are also continuing to respond quickly to emergencies. In the past two weeks I have announced more than £3 million for help in Mozambique.

Mr. Holland

Is the Minister aware that his commitment to Mozambique amounts to only 20p per head of the population? As about 4 million people are threatened with starvation, and given the key strategic role of Mozambique for all the front-line states, why does the Minister not commit at least £10 per head for the famine population—or £40 million—through an income and foreign exchange support programme for Mozambique?

What steps has the Minister taken, with his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, on joint international action to write off a major share of the $130 billion worth of debt in the remainder of sub-Saharan Africa—a debt which denies such countries a chance of fighting famine and saving lives?

Mr. Patten

As the hon. Gentleman should know, we have taken the lead in writing off official aid debts to the poorest countries. We have written off debts to the tune of about £264 million to the 13 poorest African countries. As for our assistance to Mozambique, the hon. Gentleman's views were not shared by Ministers in Mozambique a week ago.

Mr. Prentice

Given the massive scale of the crisis that has developed in sub-Saharan Africa in recent years, and its likely duration, is there not a strong case for a substantial increase in the aid programme for that region alone, rather than having to help that region at the expense of other poor areas?

Mr. Patten

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his support. I know how much he knows about the subject. We are hoping to be able to spend more in sub-Saharan Africa in the coming year. This year we are spending about £570 million in Africa on our bilateral programme alone.

Mr. Kirkwood

Will the Minister acknowledge that we are talking, not just about the quantity of money, but about the quality of investment? Will he also acknowledge the importance of supporting subsistence agriculture? Will he assure the House that the percentage of United Kingdom bilateral aid in that direction will increase?

Mr. Patten

I certainly agree with the hon. Gentleman about the importance of agriculture and the quality of our programme. I am pleased to be able to say that our bilateral project aid for the renewable natural resources sector rose by 50 per cent. in the five years to 1985 and now stands at £65 million.

Mr. Dorrell

Does my hon. Friend agree that the worst way of dealing with sub-Saharan Africa is through a programme of indiscriminate debt write-off and undermining the adjustment programme supported by the IMF, as in the policy advanced by the Opposition last week? Would not such a policy be rightly interpreted as a charter for irresponsible Third world Governments, which all observers agree contribute to the lack of development in the Third world? Is it not essential to face the fact that development in the Third world, like economic activity anywhere else, involves difficult and tough choices?

Mr. Patten

My hon. Friend is entirely right. There was a marked difference in tone between the action programme agreed by the African countries at the end of the United Nations special session last year and the document produced by the Labour party last week. However, if David Blunkett is to be believed, that document was entirely academic.

Mr. Deakins

Will the geographical redistribution of the British aid effort in the next few years benefit sub-Saharan Africa? In particular, will the countries in the region get an increasing share of whatever that aid budget may be?

Mr. Patten

That will certainly be my intention over the next year.

Mr. Sackville

Does my hon. Friend agree that any benefit accruing from overseas aid to Mozambique, Zimbabwe and other African nations will be obliterated by the devastation that will follow a policy of universal sanctions against South Africa?

Mr. Patten

Yes, Sir.