HC Deb 12 May 1993 vol 224 cc785-6
1. Mr. Barnes

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what is his policy on the recognition of Eritrea; and if he will make a statement.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Mark Lennox-Boyd)

We warmly welcome the outcome of the referendum on Eritrea's status. We plan to announce our decision on diplomatic recognition by the time the Eritreans formally declare their independence.

Mr. Barnes

Immediately after recognition, should not Eritrea be given massive economic aid from the world community? It has suffered considerably from the civil war which has destroyed its infrastructure, it suffered from a drought last year and it has half a million refugees to absorb from the Sudan. In those circumstances, is not our proposal for £500,000 worth of aid for the coming year inadequate, given that the economic recovery plan will cost $2.5 billion?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

As the hon. Gentleman knows, we have given terrific humanitarian assistance to Eritrea— some £12 million worth of aid since January 1992. We are proposing a new bilateral programme of £500,000 worth of assistance a year for that part of the world. With regard to the rehabilitation of displaced persons, the United Nations department of humanitarian affairs will visit Eritrea shortly and make a report. We wish to reserve judgment until we know the outcome of that report before considering any further matters.

Mr. Bowis

Is my hon. Friend aware that the message that I and the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Battle) bring back from Eritrea is that the people there are in remarkably good heart after 30 years of war and devastation and now need to face the next 30 years of economic war, which they will win with world support. Will he examine the possibility of supporting the World bank's initiative on its recovery programme, as well as the United Nations Development Programme for returnees and access to the Lom. IV convention, and also see whether Britain can do something to help with the necessary reforms of the civil service, support for the police and especially the improvement in literacy, given that Eritrea has chosen English as its second language?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

All those matters will certainly be examined—I can say no more than that to my hon. Friend or the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Battle), both of whom attended the referendum as observers. The British Government warmly welcome the referendum result, wish to help Eritrea in the future and will consider their relationship with Eritrea on a positive basis from now on.

Mr. Battle

I thank the Minister for his warm welcome for the referendum result. It was a privilege to be present at the referendum on 23 and 25 April. It was a free and fair vote that represented liberation of the Eritrean people after 30 years of war. Can the Minister ensure that some substantial bilateral and multilateral aid goes immediately to the reconstruction of the vital port of Massawa, which was devastated by bombing and recently revaged by a rare hurricane? That port is central to movements of food aid and the reconstruction of the whole country.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

There are enormous demands in Eritrea for all sorts of assistance. We are concentrating on the priorities for English language training and agriculture, but we are examining the whole situation.