HC Deb 18 July 1994 vol 247 cc16-7
36. Mr. Rowe

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth affairs what plans he has to provide further assistance to British non-governmental organisations working to assist development.

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

The 14 per cent. increase for the joint funding scheme and 8 per cent. for the volunteer sending programme for 1994–95 are very significant increases at present.

Mr. Rowe

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply, but can he give the House an assurance that the tragedy, and the urgent requirements, of the refugees flooding into Zaire from Rwanda are being carefully considered by his Department and that action will be taken to make it as easy as possible for NGOs to get every possible assistance as quickly as possible?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I know that non-governmental organisations will be assisting. At present, there are three aircraft. Two aircraft are on their way—one to Entebbe and the other to Nairobi. The first is the largest and will be unloaded in Entebbe; the second will arrive in Nairobi and wait for clearance to travel to Goma. A third aircraft is leaving tomorrow. Those aircraft are taking emergency humanitarian relief items which have been sent as a result of the assessment that was made, before the weekend's television pictures, by the ODA mission which, only last week, visited the area, including the particular spot where so many of the refugees are.

Mr. Simon Hughes

The Minister will be aware that the non-governmental organisations are clear in their message: not only in Zaire but in Uganda and Tanzania, there is a need for significant extra help to deal with what is not simply the immediate crisis of refugees fleeing from Rwanda but what is likely to be the long and medium-term duty to look after them—certainly in the indefinite future. Given that the Government have made special additional allocations in the past when there has been a particular crisis in another part of the world, can the Minister undertake to the House that that is under active consideration and that, if necessary, such money will be forthcoming from the British Government?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

We certainly remain ready to do more. As the hon. Gentleman is aware, since the crisis began, £11 million has been committed bilaterally for refugees and displaced people in the area. The assistance being delivered by the three aircraft to which I just referred, which is worth some £2 million, is additional to that.

Lady Olga Maitland

Does my hon. Friend agree that the extra resources given to non-governmental organisations is money well spent, especially bearing in mind that the non-governmental organisations have specialised knowledge, such as I saw in their family planning programmes in Malawi?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

My hon. Friend is right. Non-governmental organisations generally react swiftly, are flexible and can get into remote areas more quickly than anyone else. It is for that reason that over the past three years we have doubled our overall funding to non-governmental organisations from £65 million to £150 million a year.

Mr. Tom Clarke

Will the Minister focus on the fact that there are now perhaps 1 million or more refugees from Rwanda in Goma in eastern Zaire? Is he aware that representatives of British aid agencies today described the situation there as "wall-to-wall bodies", and that the emergency facing the region is on a scale unlike anything ever seen, even in Africa? What has the Minister done to implement UN decisions on humanitarian relief for Rwanda and on other measures to assist aid agencies in the distribution of vital emergency relief? Does the Minister recognise that hundreds of thousands of people are in real danger in Goma and elsewhere, and that humanitarian intervention on a massive scale is now absolutely necessary?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

Yes, we have responded and continue to do so. As I said in my earlier answers, ODA officials were there only last week. They assessed what we could do immediately, and we are doing it. Goma airport is still closed, but we hope that it will be open tomorrow so that the second aircraft which I mentioned can land there, and the third aircraft can land on Wednesday.