HC Deb 14 July 1999 vol 335 cc388-9
2. Sir Teddy Taylor (Rochford and Southend, East)

If she will make a statement on the humanitarian situation in Ethiopia and Eritrea. [89753]

The Secretary of State for International Development (Clare Short)

Recent estimates suggest that nearly 4 million people need humanitarian assistance in Ethiopia because of crop failure, and a further 400,000 because of displacement as a result of the war with Eritrea. In Eritrea, some 268,000 people need emergency assistance as a result of the conflict. Since January 1998, we have provided £6.8 million in humanitarian relief to the two countries.

Sir Teddy Taylor

As the horrendous suffering and loss of life in the dispute between those two countries appear to be almost on the scale of the first world war, and as the issue seems to be a piece of land of no great value or significance, could the Government play a role by inviting representatives of both countries to London and bringing them together to try to stop that crazy and appalling war, which is killing so many people and achieving nothing, and in which we have a responsibility as another nation of the world?

Clare Short

The hon. Gentleman is right. The war is very like the first world war, with many deaths, and young men being flung at each other over a barren piece of land. Both sides have accepted the Organisation of African Unity's proposals but not each other's good faith, so the war continues. Ethiopia is one of the poorest countries in the world, and we cannot help it to feed its people better if the war goes on. We have been doing all that we can bilaterally, by supporting the OAU process, and at the United Nations to try to get a settlement, and we will continue to do so.

Mr. Mike Gapes (Ilford, South)

Does my right hon. Friend recall that Eritrea got its independence from the Ethiopian empire after many years of hard struggle, and is a very small country with a much larger, more powerful neighbour? Is it not tragic that the conflict continues, and that the people of the region have suffered many decades of conflict and poverty? Is it not time that far more was done to protect small nations in Africa from large and powerful neighbours?

Clare Short

I agree with everything that my hon. Friend has said, except the implications of his last sentence. It would not be fair to suggest that the conflict was Ethiopia's fault. As the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor) said, the war is disastrous. It is not in the interests of either country, and is a tragedy for the development of both. It is even more tragic that both sides have accepted the OAU proposals but not each other's good faith, so the killing goes on. Both sides need peace, and we should do all that we can to bring that about.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley)

Crop failure adds to the misery that both countries are experiencing. The Minister knows of the expertise in agricultural colleges throughout Britain—in none more so than Myerscough agricultural college in Lancashire. What initiative is she taking to use such expertise in countries such as Eritrea and Ethiopia?

Clare Short

Unfortunately, I do not know of the wonderful college in the hon. Gentleman's constituency, so I do not know whether it has expertise in tropical agriculture, but we support a worldwide research programme and the application of the best research to agricultural methods in countries such as Ethiopia, which cannot grow enough food for their people. We work extensively with the scientific community in Britain. I shall find out whether we have any engagement with that college and write to the hon. Gentleman.