HC Deb 08 June 1988 vol 134 cc828-9
3. Mr. David Davis

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what reports he has received from Her Majesty's Ambassador in Ethiopia on the situation in Eritrea and Tigray and its implications for the United Kingdom's relations with Ethiopia.

Mrs. Chalker

Although neither Her Majesty's ambassador in Ethiopia nor his staff are permitted to visit these areas, he reports regularly and fully on the situation in Eritrea and Tigray. Their reports are taken fully into account in framing policy towards Ethiopia.

Mr. Davis

Will my right hon. Friend tell the House the number of people at risk from famine in Eritrea and Tigray? Does not the appalling situation in those provinces, and the restrictions applied to aid workers by the Mengistu Government, tell us that there should be a much more liberal and less extreme regime in respect of the northern provinces?

Mrs. Chalker

The best estimate that we can make of the number of people at risk from famine is some 7 million;3 million in Eritrea and Tigray. We believe that enough food is available at present; certainly it has been pledged. The difficulty will always be delivering food to war-affected areas, and that is made the more difficult if aid workers in the country cannot help in the process. We have urged the Ethiopian Government to reconsider their decision. Some United Nations personnel have been allowed to return to the north, but there are many other aid agency people in Ethiopia who want to help to prevent famine.

Sir Jim Spicer

Does my right hon. Friend not accept that that begs the main question? The people of Eritrea were handed over into bondage under the Ethiopians. They were not consulted about it. They were handed over with the then Government of this country playing a major role. Has not the time come for us to accept that they do not wish to be part of a country that is ruled by a corrupt, evil, authoritarian Communist regime, and should be given the right to decide whether they wish to be independent?

Mrs. Chalker

The territorial integrity of a country such as Ethiopia is a matter that we look at carefully, as my hon. Friend knows. The situation in Ethiopia is serious and worrying, and we will do our best to help in humanitarian terms. However, I am afraid that it is not for us to comment on the allusion of my hon. Friend.