HC Deb 25 February 1991 vol 186 cc641-4
32. Mr. Cyril D. Townsend

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he will make a statement on the discussions the Minister for Overseas Development had during her recent visit to South Africa.

33. Mr. Ian Taylor

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what was the outcome of the visit by the Minister for Overseas Development to southern Africa.

34. Mr. Irvine

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the recent visit by the Minister for Overseas Development to southern Africa.

36. Mr. Peter Bottomley

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what discussions the Minister for Overseas Development had during her recent visit to South Africa.

The Minister for Overseas Development (Mrs. Lynda Chalker)

My most recent visit included both Mozambique and the Republic of South Africa. I was able to discuss recent developments and future prospects with political leaders in both countries and to see some of the aid projects that we are assisting. During my visit, I announced a further 10,000 tonnes of food aid for Mozambique and a number of new commitments for teacher training, rural and community development projects and student awards for black South Africans.

Mr. Townsend

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the apparent success of her visit. It was billed as an opportunity for her to have discussions on political reform in South Africa. Will she give the House the benefit of her conclusions?

Mrs. Chalker

I can genuinely tell the House that I was most impressed by the speed with which the moves towards political reform are taking place. The week that I was there saw the 12-hour meeting between the African National Congress and the Government—two days later, on 15 February, good progress was announced. It is clear that President de Klerk and his Government are determined to move ahead as quickly as possible to repeal not only the Group Areas Act, but the land acts and the population registration acts. While we were there, during the time of the meeting on 12 February, an order was made to obviate the need for any child to be registered by race. We should encourage good steady progress and the repeal of all apartheid acts by recognising what the South African Government are doing.

Mr. Ian Taylor

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the importance of continuing the exciting developments of political reform in South Africa should be highlighted by increasing the openness of the South African market to international trade? In addition, our aid programme should be geared particularly to assisting community development. It is much more important to develop that aspect of South Africa than simply to worry about the principle of voting.

Mrs. Chalker

I should be wrong not to say that the principle of voting is important. We hope that the all-party congress to discuss the modalities of the new constitution will proceed apace. Of course, it is critical that we lift the bans holding back the progress of black South Africans. South Africa needs investment if it is to provide training and job opportunities to young black South Africans. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Esher (Mr. Taylor) for welcoming our announcement not only to give more than £500,000 over four years for teacher training, but to support other projects that will lead to training and work for young black South Africans so that they can take their rightful place in the new South Africa.

Mr. Irvine

Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the most encouraging features about British Government aid to developing countries in recent years has been the improvement in its quality and effectiveness? During her visit to Mozambique in particular, was she able to see that improvement in effectiveness taking place?

Mrs. Chalker

Indeed, I was. I went up to Magude and then further up the Limpopo railway line where the workers are doing work with our money at the same time and so improving that line. I saw work in the port and work on power stations. It is going well and the quality is high.

Mr. Peter Bottomley

Does my right hon. Friend agree that her discussions showed that courage and persistence are needed by Nelson Mandela, Chief Buthelezi and President de Klerk in trying to overcome the prejudices and provocations that are still likely to unsettle the path to one person, one vote and to full economic development?

Mrs. Chalker

Yes. We hope that all parties will get together to join in the process of peaceful change. I stressed that to all whom I met—the Pan Africanist Congress, the ANC, Inkatha and AZAPO—the Azanian People's Organisation. I hope that there will soon be progress.

Sir Russell Johnston

Was one of the views that the Minister reached on her visit that the European Community should increase its regional allocation from the figure agreed under Lomé IV?

Mrs. Chalker

In fact, Lomé IV will not apply to South Africa, but it applies to Mozambique. We shall have a debate tomorrow night on the details of that. I shall be able better to answer the hon. Gentleman's question at that time, because it needs to be answered at length.

Mrs. Dunwoody

Will the Minister confirm that what is needed in South Africa, as well as peace, is food? Is it true that a large part of the allocation of moneys that she announced will be held over until the beginning of the financial year?

Mrs. Chalker

The hon. Lady does not understand the progress of giving food aid. When we are asked for help, we ask in what way that help can most aptly be applied. Sometimes it is with transport costs and sometimes it is with transport equipment, but all that we have learnt in recent years is that we must keep the food pipeline full. We are now nearly at the end of February. Food is needed from April onwards. That is when it will get there and that is what has been arranged.

Mr. Tony Banks

Did the Minister have the opportunity to discuss with conservationists in southern Africa the impact of the construction of the northern buffalo fence in the Okavango region of Namibia? Is the Minister aware that that fence has been constructed because of the requirements of the EC to establish a foot and mouth disease-free range, but that its impact on the wild creatures—elephants, giraffes, buffalo and wildebeest—is catastrophic? Will she consult the authorities in Namibia to call a halt to the construction of that fence until a proper environmental investigation of its impact has been made?

Mrs. Chalker

As I understand it, the authorities in Namibia have not been concerned with this matter—it involves the authorities in Botswana. As the hon. Gentleman knows from questions that I have already answered to him, we are looking into this matter most carefully.

Mrs. Clwyd

Although additional assistance for Mozambique is welcome, does not the Minister realise that an emergency appeal made by Mozambique and the United Nation's last year for £76 million to help with famine, refugees and the effects of war has still not been met? However, the Minister said—I am very puzzled by this—in an interview in the environment section of The Guardian on Friday: If I needed more money, I could go and get it. Is she telling the House that despite the fact that 27 million people in Africa are starving and crying out for help, she has not even bothered to go to the Treasury to ask for more money to meet their needs? If that is the case, she is failing them and failing in her job.

Mr. Chalker

First, it is 29 million people who may be at risk of starvation in 25 African countries. We are extremely well aware of the problem. Secondly, we have planned our expenditure and we have planned our provision with the non-governmental organisations which I met last week to make sure that we keep the pipelines as full as we can. However, it simply cannot be left to Britain alone. That is why I have written to all other major aid donors to make sure that they make adequate contributions and we shall carry on doing so ourselves.