HC Deb 31 October 1994 vol 248 cc1210-2
40. Mr. Corbett

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what assistance is being given to the new Government of Rwanda to help with rehabilitation and reconstruction; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Baldry

Since April, we have provided £60 million of emergency aid. Of that, almost £2 million has gone to non-governmental organisations involved in programmes for immediate rehabilitation in Rwanda, mainly concerned with seeds and tool provision, the restarting of health care services and tracing and registration of unaccompanied children.

Mr. Corbett

That help is welcome, but can the hon. Gentleman confirm that the Government plan to cut bilateral aid to Africa by £60 million over the next three years? Does he understand that money invested now in long-term development will save lives and money in future emergencies?

Mr. Baldry

The hon. Gentleman heard me say that we have just committed ¢60 million to Rwanda alone. British aid has grown significantly during recent years—by 10 per cent. in real terms since 1987–88. This year's budget is almost £50 million higher than last year's. Indeed, in 1993 the United Kingdom was one of only seven countries in the world to increase its aid in real terms. We are the sixth largest aid donor worldwide.

The size of our programmes is by no means the only factor; quality is also important, and our programmes are practical and effective. The quality of our aid programme is recognised worldwide, and it is one of which we can all be proud.

Mr. Waterson

Does my hon. Friend agree that the speed of reaction and the generosity of this country in responding to tragedies such as that in Rwanda is second to none? Is it not positively churlish to suggest otherwise.

Mr. Baldry

I hope that our achievements in Rwanda speak for themselves. The United Kingdom can be proud of what we have been doing in Rwanda. We have provided considerable support to a number of voluntary and non-governmental organisations; ODA cargo-handling teams have been working in the region since the start of the crisis; and since mid-July the ODA has organised more than 30 relief flights from the United Kingdom to Goma, containing vehicles, blankets, high-energy biscuits, water tankers, plastic sheeting and specialist staff. The water tanker team daily provides a third of a million litres of clean, life-saving water to refugee camps around Goma. We have contributed £60 million to relief aid in Rwanda. Britain is playing her part in the reconstruction of Rwanda and is helping to save lives there.

Miss Lestor

The hon. Gentleman referred to the need for water. Is he aware of the report in the Daily Mirror today, which has been confirmed by Oxfam, to the effect that a fleet of water tanker lorries intended for Rwanda and already painted in the United Nations white colours is rotting away on a disused airfield in Diss in Norfolk? The Minister must be aware, as the whole country is aware, that in Rwanda in July, 6,000 people a day were dying from lack of clean water. The use of those water tankers could have saved the lives of people who died from cholera and waterborne diseases.

Will the hon. Gentleman authorise an immediate investigation into the truth of the report and the role that the UN played—or failed to play—in getting that water to Rwanda?

Mr. Baldry

I welcome the hon. Lady to her new post on the Opposition Front Bench. We are investigating the allegations, as we want all humanitarian actions to be as effective as possible. However, she may have been misled. I have a copy of a fax showing that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees told the Daily Mirror on 28 October—some three days ago—that the UNHCR owns no water tankers in Britain, is not negotiating to purchase any in Britain and has never been in any negotiations to purchase any in Britain. My understanding is that the water tankers to which the hon. Lady referred were bought by an American firm from the Soviet army some time ago. That firm has never been in negotiations to sell them to the UN.

On the question of action by the ODA, we made immediate arrangements to transfer water tankers from Bosnia to Rwanda to meet the needs there. As I said earlier, water tankers from the United Kingdom are daily providing a third of a million litres of clean water to refugee camps around Goma.

Mr. Matthew Banks

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is not the quantity of aid to Rwanda that is significant but its quality? In any case, the British overseas aid programme is one of the finest of its kind in the world.

Mr. Baldry

I entirely agree. All independent assessments of overseas aid programmes have concluded that United Kingdom programmes are of high quality, and we are determined that they will remain so.

42. Mr. Carrington

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what support is being given to help non-governmental work in Rwanda.

Mr. Baldry

Since 6 April we have specifically provided£15.5 million to non-governmental organisations implementing emergency relief programmes to displaced and refugee Rwandans.

Mr. Carrington

Does my hon. Friend agree that NGOs are providing effective assistance in Rwanda and that their work is the best way of getting assistance to the people in that unhappy country.

Mr. Baldry

I entirely agree, which is why we have been providing considerable support to NGOs for CARE's emergency relief operations in south-west Rwanda, and have part-funded Oxfam's water provision programme in Goma and the Save the Children Fund's health and child-tracing programme in north-west and south-west Rwanda. Often, NGOs can get to areas that recognised Governments or Government bodies cannot reach, which is why we have increasingly been working with NGOs in Rwanda and elsewhere in the world.