HC Deb 18 March 1991 vol 188 cc16-7
31. Mrs. Mahon

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what extra emergency relief is being given to alleviate the famine in Africa, over the amount planned at the beginning of the financial year.

The Minister for Overseas Development (Mrs. Lynda Chalker)

As I explained in a written answer to the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) on 6 February, at columns 146–47, the initial provision for humanitarian assistance made at the beginning of the current financial year was £66.7 million. That provision is now £74 million. No separate allocation is made for Africa.

Mrs. Mahon

Given the scale of the disaster facing the people of sub-Saharan Africa, where 27 million face starvation, was not that a complacent reply, and should not the Minister be trying to initiate a coalition of nations to make that disaster the national emergency that it should be? Could not we start by having a full-scale debate in the House of Commons? The public have responded magnificently this weekend; cannot the Government do the same?

Mrs. Chalker

Many right hon. and hon. Members—even Opposition Members—recognise that the British Government went out of their way, at a diplomatic level, to encourage all the main donors to do more. Britain alone cannot end the famine in Africa and it is nonsense to suggest otherwise. We have received some helpful responses, but we are continuing the pressure on all the European Community's member states, the United States, Canada, Australia and other donors to ensure that not only the British public respond—they did so magnificently through Comic Relief—but that other donors do their bit.

Mr. Wells

In view of my right hon. Friend's great generosity in dealing with the African famine, the refugees caused by the Gulf war and eastern European matters, is not it time, in accordance with the Foreign Affairs Select Committee report on famine in Africa, to ask the Treasury for more money to boost the amount available for overseas aid in the coming year?

Mrs. Chalker

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I expect the humanitarian aid provision for the next financial year at least to match the current financial commitment. Last Thursday I was able to approve further allocations of food aid for Ethiopia. They constituted, last week alone, 6,500 tonnes for the world food programme, worth £1 million, and 1,300 tonnes for Oxfam's programme in the Ogaden, totalling another £1.25 million.

Mrs. Clwyd

The Minister attempts to confuse the House with her selection of figures. Does she remember, when referring to the Ethiopian famine of 1985, saying to the House last December: We shall certainly at least match what we did that year."—[Official Report, 19 December 1990, Vol. 183, c. 291.] That would mean giving £36 million in today's prices—so far the Government have given £27 million since the famine was first talked about in September. When does she intend to honour that pledge? Perhaps she will tell the House today. Why are Oxfam, Save the Children Fund, the Disasters Emergency Committee and many other agencies desperately advertising in the newspapers for more help? When will the Government stop being so miserly and save the millions of people now dying from famine in Africa?

Mrs. Chalker

The hon. Lady seems to believe that Britain should do it all—I cannot agree with her. While the information has been coining in I have responded, not to some but to all appeals that the British Government have received, be it from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the world food programme or other agencies. I have received letters from agencies stating that they never received such a response. We shall go on responding, and I am not prepared to accept the hon. Lady's tired and empty allegations. Of course, charities are rightly making appeals—I back them fully and shall continue to do so.

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