HL Deb 10 July 1984 vol 454 cc755-8

2.51 p.m.

Lord McNair

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what funds, in addition to the existing overseas aid budget, they intend to contribute towards the cost of proposals to be made at the Second International Conference on Assistance to Refugees in Africa (ICARA II).

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Young)

My Lords, my right honourable friend the Minister for Overseas Development is today pledging an additional £5 million to be spent through British and international non-governmental organisations on refugee-related development projects in Africa. Although additional to existing provisions for African refugees, this money will come from the amounts planned for the overseas aid programme as a whole. Its aim will be to help the permanent integration of refugees with their host communities. It will thus complement our contributions to special appeals for the temporary support of African refugees by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Committee of the Red Cross, to which we have already promised nearly £41/2 million so far in 1984.

Lord McNair

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Baroness for that Answer, which I do not think could be improved upon. I wonder, though, whether she could widen the scope of her answers to my very narrowly-drafted Question by giving the House some indication of the Government's general attitude towards this very important conference—the theme of which, as she will know, is "A Time for Solutions". Does she not agree that in Africa there are now about 4 million refugees being looked after by some of the poorest countries on earth? Does this not mean that aid should be directed not only towards the refugees but, as I think she indicated, also towards their host countries, in order to avoid ill-feeling between refugees and the surrounding indigenous populations? In conclusion can the Minister tell the House at what level Her Majesty's Government are represented at the conference in Geneva?

Baroness Young

My Lords, in reply to the noble Lord's last question. I can confirm that my right honourable friend the Minister for Overseas development is at the Geneva conference. It was at that conference that he made the announcement concerning the extra money which I indicated in my original Answer. I hope that will indicate to the noble Lord the importance that we attach to the conference.

Lord Oram

My Lords, is it not the case that voluntary aid agencies play a most important part in relation to refugee problems and that therefore the announcement yesterday by the Minister for Overseas Development of increased aid for voluntary aid agencies is very much to be welcomed? When the noble Baroness announced the pledges which the Minister is making at Geneva this week, does that imply that he will be supporting the long-term development proposals which will be discussed at the conference in addition to the more immediate annual relief schemes that have been dealt with hitherto?

Baroness Young

I assume that the long-term projects to which the noble Lord refers are the 128 projects for which funding is now being sought at ICARA II. I can confirm that to the extent that the non-governmental organisations concerned wish to implement the projects on that list, and the Government are satisfied that the project in question is well conceived, then we would support it.

Viscount Buckmaster

My Lords, can the noble Baroness the Minister assure the House that Her Majesty's Government are duly concerned about the plight of the Ugandan refugees in the Sudan and Ruanda who have suffered so grievously in their own countries? Secondly, does she not agree that in all schemes designed to aid refugees, the instilling of hope is more important in the long term than the provision of food, clothing and shelter?

Baroness Young

Yes, my Lords, we are concerned about the plight of the refugees to which the noble Viscount has made reference. Most of the concentrations of refugees are in the Horn of Africa as well as in the Sudan, Uganda, Ruanda, Burundi, Zaire, and Tanzania. As the noble Viscount will be aware, we have just announced this extra £5 million of money and we do give £5 million each year in money and in food aid. We make a further contribution through the Community, to which we contribute 20 per cent. of the cost. And in response to special appeals in 1984, we have contributed £4.5 million.

Lord Bauer

My Lords, can the noble Baroness confirm that all these refugees come from countries whose governments receive much aid from the International Development Association? Instead of making further demands on the taxpayer, should not IDA funds be used to alleviate the desperate plight of these refugees—a course which might also discourage African governments from creating more refugees?

Baroness Young

I do not have available information about the sums of money that we give by way of overseas aid to those particular countries. I have already indicated in answer to an earlier question the countries which have the highest concentrations of refugees in Africa. As my noble friend has said, they are some of the poorest. In this connection, I should like to point out that in respect of the extra money we have announced today, we are looking to schemes which will enable refugees to settle more successfully in the countries in which they have sought asylum and in which they will be encouraged by self-help schemes to support themselves.

Lord Ennals

My Lords, will the noble Baroness accept that the British Refugee Council, in which I am deeply involved, will greatly welcome the statement she has made? Does she not agree that if, flowing from the ICARA II conference, there are specific projects which may fall outside the additional £5 million, that the Government will at least give sympathetic consideration, particularly if the projects are being run by British Voluntary organisations?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I am glad of the support which the noble Lord has given to this announcement by my right honourable friend. We think that it is a generous sum of money and we see these funds being channelled principally through voluntary organisations, which we believe is the most cost-effective way. I hope that they will manage to use this money—because it will be spread over the next three to five years—in encouraging self-help and on projects which will help refugees settle in their new countries.