HC Deb 19 April 2000 vol 348 cc187-207WH

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—[Mrs. McGuire.]

9.30 am
Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park)

It is difficult to believe that this debate is necessary, but I thank Madam Speaker for granting it. I have made six unsuccessful attempts to ask a private notice question during the past two and a half weeks. The hon. Member for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter), the Conservative spokesman, has also requested a PNQ. That is unusually coy behaviour on the part of the Minister.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. George Foulkes)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I think that you will be aware, as the hon. Lady should be, that the granting of private notice questions is nothing to do with the Government. They are entirely in the gift of Madam Speaker. Normally, such matters are not referred to, but had that request been granted, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I would have been only too pleased to answer a PNQ on the subject.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The Minister has given as good a ruling on that matter as I could have done. The hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge) would be well advised to note the criteria that govern private notice questions.

Mr. Tony Baldry (Banbury)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Will you advise the Committee that nothing could have prevented the Government from volunteering a statement?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. That is verging on matters of debate. We might be advised to deal with the substance of the matter before us. I call the hon. Member for Richmond Park.

Dr. Tonge

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I stand corrected. As a relatively new Member, I am not aware of the procedural niceties of the House.

I am nevertheless delighted that the debate has been granted, although I still find it difficult to believe that it is necessary. We all remember the terrible famine in Ethiopia in 1984. I remember it particularly well because, thanks to Bob Geldof—now Sir Bob—my eldest son, who was a young teenager at the time, was terribly interested in development issues. My son described himself as a rockabilly, but I never found out what it meant. However, the famine in Ethiopia geared up a whole generation of young people to become interested in development issues. That interest has remained with them.

I am sure that at that time, the House agonised and debated, held inquiries and resolved that such a famine should not happen again. Some hon. Members will be able to remind us about that. Since then, many other disasters have occurred, including the famine in the Sudan in 1989. In 1998, I was a member of the Select Committee on International Development, when it debated those problems. I remember, during that terrible time in southern Sudan, that systems were set up and we all thought that it could not happen again in that part of Africa.

Operation Lifeline Sudan was set up after the famine in southern Sudan in 1989. We had been warned of food shortages and famine in October 1997, but it was not until February or March 1998 that the usual images of starving children appeared on our television screens—the harrowing sight of families with little children literally starving to death before our eyes. That is when people responded. That is when the non-governmental organisations responded and when the Government kicked into activity.

It feels horribly as if the same thing is happening again. By the spring of 1998, many thousands of Sudanese people had died. Ethiopia is not unlike the Sudan; there is conflict, drought, poverty and a lack of long-term development, which is the ideal mix that leads to famine. There has been drought in Ethiopia for the past four years. The Ethiopian Government have been issuing warnings about food security during that time and they are now appealing for 1.2 million tonnes of food aid. If that aid does not arrive, 8 million lives will be at risk in Ethiopia alone, and it is estimated that 16 million lives could be at risk in the Horn of Africa as a whole.

Mr. Foulkes

To coincide with the hon. Lady's success in this debate, the Department for International Development has published an information bulletin on Ethiopia. It is available on the internet and hard copies are available now—I have already given the hon. Lady one.

Dr. Tonge

I thank the Minister for that intervention, but I will not suggest that we should all go home and read the document instead of staying here. The title of the debate was deliberately broadened in an attempt to enable us to consider some of the issues behind the knee-jerk reaction that has to take place when a famine occurs. The matter is much more complicated than that reaction would imply.

Once again, starving children are appearing on our television screens, although they have been wiped off them during the past couple of days because of the troubles in Zimbabwe. I am sure that we will see them again during the Easter weekend. Apparently, the situation is not yet a famine. It is not a famine because the United Nations assessors have not reported back, as the war with Eritrea is said to be using up Ethiopia's resources and not enough people are dying each day. Apparently, a particular number of people must die every day for a famine to occur. In spite of what we have seen, not enough people are doing so, which is very inconvenient. It is tempting to remind the House of these words:

Any man's death diminishes me…And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls. Surely famine does not have to be a matter of numbers.

I am pleased to inform you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that Madam Speaker has recognised the great need that exists. Last night, in Speaker's House, under the auspices of a non-governmental organisation called Farm Africa, Madam Speaker launched a campaign called "Send a Tonne to Africa", meaning a tonne of grain or cereal. People are asked to contribute large or small sums that will be used to purchase grain locally from African farmers. The amount can be a kilo or a tonne, or whatever can be afforded. Madam Speaker has pump primed the appeal by donating £3,000, and last night she raised £10,000 in an hour, which was not bad going. We should all thank her and congratulate her on the effort that she is making to highlight the problems in Ethiopia.

What is going wrong with the world's response? As I said, Ethiopia needs 1.2 million tonnes of food. So far, or at least until 10 April—I have not yet read the Department for International Development briefing—350,000 tonnes have been pledged. After the previous famine in Ethiopia, the Ethiopian Government established a disaster prevention and preparedness commission to provide early warnings and an emergency food security reserve to provide relief food. A pharaoh's granary exists in Ethiopia to provide for the lean years by storing up food from the fat years. What has happened to it? Sadly, it has been depleted by loans to donors, which include the United States, the European Union, Canada, the Netherlands, Germany and the World Food Programme, which have plundered the store of food that was set aside for Ethiopia. The World Food Programme is on that list, but also runs Operation Lifeline Sudan in northern Kenya to provide food aid to southern Sudan.

What sort of madness is that? It is not as if the world is short of food. Why were not the resources replenished by the international community or, on our own doorstep, by the European Union? That question is especially important in the light of the warnings of food shortages that were given last year. How much has the United Kingdom contributed to the European Union food aid fund? Why have we not pressed Brussels to act sooner? Why have we failed to respond adequately to the United Nation's appeal in January for $10 million for health care and water supplies? Only $1 million has been received so far. What is happening about the rapid response force to disasters called for by Sir Bob Geldof a couple of days ago? The Liberal Democrats discussed such a force extensively during the Mozambique disaster. The idea is not new but neither the European Community Humanitarian Office nor the United Nations seem able to provide the world with that much-needed facility.

Mr. Gary Streeter (South-West Devon)

I am very much enjoying the hon. Lady's speech. She touches on an important matter—the performance of the multilateral agencies in such situations. Does she agree that the response is disappointing more often than not? I was wondering this morning whether I could think of a situation in which the multilateral agencies had responded well in such a crisis. Can she think of an example? What would she suggest we do to improve the performance of the UN and the EU?

Dr. Tonge

That intervention was useful. I am a great European and a great fan of the United Nations, but I am the first person to admit that they are not getting matters right. We must get them right. A country on its own cannot deliver the response needed in a disaster. Consider the problem of heavy-lift equipment in the Mozambique disaster. Provision of such equipment is not for one country alone. Not all countries can have their own heavy-lift equipment to use once in a million years. We need to work together as a group of countries and we must put much more effort into doing that. I am not apologising in any sense for the European Union or the United Nations. I am simply saying that there must be a way. The world needs us to find a way.

No wonder I have a sense of deja vu. The same confusion, lack of response and failure to heed early warnings before the media and the newsmen arrive happened two years ago and it will all happen in two years' time if we are not careful.

Before I leave the subject of immediate humanitarian aid, it must be noted that the war with Eritrea has made the use of ports in that country impossible. That is undoubtedly a factor. Can Djibouti cope with the demand for ships bringing in grain and other supplies? There are good reports, including some from the Ethiopian Government and the non-governmental organisations, that much is being done in that port to make access easier and to get supplies in.

I have studied the atlas hard to try to work out whether it would be possible to use Lokichokio in northern Kenya. The question interests me. I have seen the fleet of Hercules aircraft and the tonnes and tonnes of food aid stored there. Yes, the food is needed for southern Sudan, but the Hercules aircraft are a possible means of transport. I wonder whether it would be possible to use that facility.

In responding to the crisis in the Sudan two years' ago, the Secretary of State for International Development said:

Spend less on development, fail in development, more and more poverty, more and more crisis, more and more humanitarian disaster, more and more appeals, more and more failure, more and more suffering, more and more poverty. No addressing the causes or underlying concerns. As the statement makes clear, without proper long-term development, famines and catastrophes will continue.

Ethiopia has doubled its population in the past 15 years. There is over-crowding, poor farming practice, soil deterioration and deforestation. All those factors contribute to conflict and famine. Many NGOs, including Christian Aid, have been working in the region to develop sustainable practices, such as the construction of earth dams to collect water and the better roads that are essential if Ethiopia is to haul itself out of poverty. The Government of Ethiopia has conducted a massive road-building programme and are making huge efforts to improve agriculture. Why, then, is the United Kingdom cutting long-term development aid to Ethiopia from, as I understand it, £39 million to £19 million in the next three years? In a country where 45 per cent. of the population live on less than a dollar a day, the Ethiopian Government spend twice as much on debt servicing as they do on primary education. All the factors are present. Why are we cutting aid?

I understand, and have been told many times by the Secretary of State, that long-term development aid is not provided to countries in conflict—or that there is a reluctance to do so. The war between Ethiopia and Eritrea costs Ethiopia £1 million a day. That is a terrible waste. However, if we cut development aid because it may be misappropriated by warring factions, as it is alleged is happening in southern Sudan, how can we break the cycle of poverty, conflict and famine that repeats over and over again? I am not suggesting that this is an easy problem to deal with, and I am not apportioning blame; I am just opening the matter for debate.

Can we not provide the development aid through the NGOs that are brave enough to work in dangerous zones? Indeed, the United Kingdom Government do that in some places. Despite what is happening in Zimbabwe, there has been an increase in development aid via the NGOs, for which I applaud them. That aid is provided despite Zimbabwe's involvement in the war in the Congo, also. Development aid to Sierra Leone has also increased, but the situation there is hardly stable or safe. However, that is not to happen for southern Sudan, where the civil war has been running for 30 years, or for Ethiopia. Why?

Southern Sudan and Ethiopia are to receive no, or little, development aid. Apparently, the carrot and stick are to be offered to them. Aid will come only when the fighting stops. The civil war in southern Sudan has been going on for 30 years. The one plea that I received from mothers during my visit was for teachers to educate their children. Not only did their children have nothing to do, but the mothers argued that, however the war continued and whatever raids were made on their villages, education could not be taken from their children. Once it was in their brains, it was there. Generations are missing out.

Are the children of Ethiopia to suffer the same fate? I do not defend the war in either country. In fact, I was appalled by President Zenawi's remarks last week that he would not attempt to broker a peace with Eritrea. He said: We do not believe that protecting one's sovereignty is a luxury for the rich alone. Nevertheless, we must ensure that aid for education and basic health care is provided, even during conflict. It is the only way to break the cycle.

Mr. Bowen Wells (Hertford and Stortford)

Surely the dilemma is how much the hon. Lady would expect food aid to perpetuate the war and the conditions that prevent children from benefiting from education, because they die from malnutrition.

Dr. Tonge

That crosses the two issues. I do not suggest that we should not give humanitarian aid—food and water. Those things must be got to the children, whether there is war or not. My argument is that development aid—particularly education, because we all know how important primary education is to a country's development—should not be cut simply because of conflict. Not only is it crucial, but not much is needed. In the Sudan, little is required to educate children—a teacher, a shady tree and, with luck, slates and chalks or a few bits of paper and the odd book. They are not asking for much. Those things cannot be destroyed by war. If the teachers and children flee, education can carry on.

Many questions need to be answered about the reaction to the immediate crisis in Ethiopia and about our long-term policy on development aid to countries in conflict. I thank the Minister for listening. I hope that he will provide answers before the images of death and suffering return to our television screens.

9.50 am
Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge) on securing the debate. She was not alone in wanting to raise this subject. Many people have been involved in activities similar to those that have occupied her in previous weeks. The Department for International Development has been keen to explain its position on the response to the famine in Ethiopia.

In a debate on Ethiopia that I initiated in December 1989, I quoted the Foreign Affairs Committee report of 1988 on famine in the Horn of Africa. It said: An impression may have been created in the donor countries that, since so many lessons have been learnt, the horrors of 1984–85 would not recur. This would be dangerously false optimism… But droughts will occur again—the rains have failed or been inadequate in 3 of the last 4 years—and with a fast-growing population, poor farming techniques, widespread deforestation and land degradation, the consequent famines are likely to be increasingly severe…And by each successive drought the resilience of the people and of the land is diminished. It is a spiral which, if unbroken, may result in tragedy.—[Official Report, 13 December 1989; Vol. 163, c. 1062.] Who would have thought that in 2000 we would be debating the same problems? Weather is difficult to control in any country, however, and in the countries of Africa people are so dependent on it for their survival.

The Secretary of State for International Development said in a written answer that the UN estimates that more than 12 million people face serious food shortages in the Horn of Africa. Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, Djibouti and Somalia are suffering to a varying extent. We know, however, that the people of Ethiopia are most at risk. Even in good rain years, 5 million to 6 million Ethiopians are partially dependent on food aid—about 8 million face famine in Ethiopia now. As the hon. Member for Richmond Park said, food aid is essential. We need to respond quickly to the plight of the Ethiopian Government.

Last night, I read a briefing paper by the Ethiopian Government, which most hon. Members will have received. It asks what the difference is between 1984 and now and explains: Ethiopia has changed dramatically in the past eight years. Since the overthrow of the Derg regime in 1991, Ethiopia has been a democracy and the Government has been working continually to improve infrastructure, agricultural methods and training for farmers to alleviate the impact of rain failure and crop failure. Food security and self-sufficiency is the No. 1 priority of the Government. It should also be pointed out that Ethiopia has not been in the grip of drought and food shortages since 1984. That certainly was not the case in 1989, when there was a similar problem. It goes on to say: The improvements in agriculture and infrastructure since 1991 …meant that Ethiopia actually exported food to neighbouring countries in both 1996 and 1997. The problems since then have been unfavourable climactic conditions and the lack of adequate donor response, to which the hon Lady has already referred. She also spoke about the extreme poverty in the country.

I visited Ethiopia just before the fall of Mengistu and saw the great efforts that were being made at the time by United Nations agencies. The United Nations Development Project was attempting to give information to farmers. I went out on field trips with people from that project and saw them instructing farmers on how best to use their poor soil. The farmers queued halfway up a mountain to receive that instruction. UNDP was bemoaning the fact that it did not have more resources at its disposal to provide more education programmes to farmers, who are keen to learn. There has also been an enormous population explosion, which was clear even in 1989. Again, the United Nations population programmes in Ethiopia were completely overloaded by demand, and long queues of people were waiting in the streets to obtain information from the UN clinics. Therefore, we must look again at the resources that the UN can deploy in countries such as Ethiopia.

Ethiopia has endured four successive seasons of drought. The rainy seasons—one in February and one in the summer—did not bring any rain, but they are vital because they contribute to 50 per cent. of crop production in some parts of the country. For the past three years, the rains that begin in February have been very short and this year they did not arrive at all. Ethiopia's farmers are probably more dependent on rain than farmers in any other African country. In its good briefing, Oxfam says, Crop production has been decimated and 95 per cent. of the livestock have been lost in the Ogaden in the south.

We have seen the pictures on television of carcases lying all over the desert. The herdsmen, who are dependent on their livestock for milk and income, have been killing them as a last resort to survive. The population of Ethiopia has doubled since 1985, so land is being divided into smaller plots that allow farmers to produce a family's grain needs for three to four months of the year on average. The soil is being overused and exhausted as a consequence. Soil erosion is so bad that billions of tonnes of soil are washed away each year. Farmers are not allowed to own their land, which is a disincentive to investment in it. Deforestation in Ethiopia has made the problem of soil erosion worse. Only 3 per cent. of the land in Ethiopia is now covered by trees, which is extraordinary.

International Monetary Fund and World Bank policies mean that Ethiopia spends more on servicing debt than on health and education. I believe that Ethiopia has outstanding Export Credits Guarantee Department loans to the UK to the sum of £15 million. Its total external debt is $10.4 billion, which is 169 per cent. of its annual gross national product and 10 times the value of its exports. Clearly, that is ridiculous.

The new Ethiopian Government have attempted to put in place projects to mitigate the effects of drought, such as building earth dams to catch the limited rainwater. They have introduced measures to reduce poverty, such as establishing credit unions and initiating job creation schemes in urban areas. They have made improvements in infrastructure—for instance through road-building programmes—to speed up food delivery in times of famine. As the hon. Member for Richmond Park said, all those projects have been undermined by the cutting back of western aid in response to the war with Eritrea.

In the mid-1990s the IMF insisted on cuts in social spending to ensure budget surpluses. Ethiopia is not in the heavily indebted poor countries scheme and still pays a massive amount in debt service payments: last year, the figure was £60 million. Therefore, while ordinary people in the west generously donate money with one hand, western banks and Governments take it back with the other in interest payments.

The drought and famine have been compounded by the war with Eritrea, even though little fighting is going on at present. The Ethiopian Government should acknowledge that, because they maintain an enormous standing army of 400,000 men along the border with Eritrea, which costs the country £631,000 a day to maintain. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister told me in an answer on 5 April that international efforts were in hand to bring the war with Eritrea to a conclusion. I do not know what those efforts are and would like to hear more about them. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister will refer to them in his reply.

The International Development Committee has looked many times at the impact of conflict, and at its draining effect on the economy and well-being of the countries where conflict is a perpetual fact of life. At the same time as we are trying to relieve the famine, international efforts should be made to bring that conflict to an end.

There are worrying reports that, despite the famine, Ethiopia is preparing to launch a new offensive against Eritrea. On 13 April, the Ethiopian Prime Minister refused to rule out launching another offensive. That again underlines the need for rapid international attempts to end the conflict.

The hon. Member for Richmond Park said that the Ethiopian Government had reserves of food, but they have dropped to 30,000 tonnes, which is only enough for about two weeks' emergency distribution. Western Governments gave the Ethiopians written assurances that supplies that were borrowed would be replenished as soon as possible, but the donors have failed to replenish. The European Union alone has failed to replenish 78,000 tonnes from the stores.

Dr. Tonge

I thank the hon. Lady for emphasising that point. Like me, does she not feel outraged that, in spite of the experience of the past 10 to 15 years and after all the discussion, debate and inquiries, the world could have allowed those food stores to be depleted to such an extent?

Ann Clwyd

I could not agree more with the hon. Lady. If those food stores were borrowed and promises were made on paper to replenish them, it is a disgrace that they have not been replenished.

Appeals were made for additional food aid as long ago as November 1999, but, as of 1 April, no food supplies had arrived in Ethiopia, and the Ethiopian Foreign Minister said that the world seems to react only when it sees "skeletons on screens". The United Nations launched an appeal for £190 million on 28 January 2000. Oxfam has accused the international community of dragging its feet by not sending aid quickly enough and sending only half the amount that it promised in 1999. Oxfam has provided some interesting figures, which are worth examining, but I shall not read them out now.

The Secretary of State for International Development stated on 12 April that since January, the United Kingdom has committed ££4.5 million in aid, including 16,500 tonnes of food. The Department has said that it is ready to do more as needs emerge, and, compared with many other countries, the United Kingdom's record has been extremely good and cannot be faulted.

The UN special envoy recently visited Ethiopia and made strong speeches, stating that it is now time for the international community to act. She met the Ethiopian Prime Minister and was told that the west was using the war with Eritrea as an excuse for its slow reaction to the famine. That may be his opinion, but the response has been good since the needs became fully known. Television has an important role because it puts pressure on Governments that need to be pressurised, and it leads to a good response from the public.

I shall spell out what the United Kingdom should do. If it is not doing so already, it must work with its EU partners and the international community to ensure that all food and non-food aid requested by Ethiopia and the aid agencies arrives as quickly as possible. It must provide cash so that food can be bought locally. Most urgently, it must bring the Eritreans, southern separatist groups and Ethiopians together to try to secure an agreement to end the conflict, at least in the short term, and open access to other ports in Eritrea to speed up aid delivery.

In the long term, the United Kingdom must try to bring that damaging war to an end. It must then discuss with the Ethiopians and aid agencies the problems of infrastructure and logistics to find the best and quickest means of overcoming them. It must try to deal with the underlying causes of recurring famine and break the cycle of crisis that arose in 1984, 1989 and now in 2000.

The IMF, the World Bank and creditor Governments should re-examine Ethiopia's and Eritrea's foreign debt and suspend, reschedule or cancel it and offer quicker and deeper debt relief, perhaps as a carrot for their efforts to end the war. The multilateral development banks and donor Governments should offer substantial and additional long-term assistance to Ethiopia and Eritrea. Finally, the Ethiopian Government, through the World Bank, the UN, and aid agencies, should be encouraged to develop an effective strategy to tackle land ownership and soil erosion. In the long term, that will enable Ethiopian families to feed themselves and, hopefully, bring the cycle of crisis to an end so that, after 2000, we no longer witness pitifully thin, exhausted Ethiopians dying on our television screens.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Frank Cook)

Order. It may be of assistance if I remind hon. Members of the convention during these 90-minute debates to give the Floor to the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman 30 minutes before the close of the debate. Only two Front-Bench speakers remain, so I shall call the Opposition spokesman at 10.40, leaving 40 minutes in which to fit four other hon. members. I therefore appeal to those hon. Members to be as concise as possible, so that we can accommodate everyone.

10.10 am
Mr. Tony Baldry (Banbury)

Thank you, Mr. Cook.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I must also remind hon. Members that the House has decided, in its wisdom, that Westminster Hall is not a Committee. It is the House and the person in the Chair must, therefore, be addressed accordingly.

Mr. Baldry

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. This is still a novel forum for some of us, and I must say that it is not a particularly pleasant forum. I like to be able to see the Minister's eyes when I address the Chamber.

I shall not repeat what the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) has said, because she put it very well. I shall make several further points. My interest in Ethiopia started when I went there with the hon. Members for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) and for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) in 1984 under the auspices of Save the Children and Oxfam. I was also chairman of the Anglo-Ethiopian Society for some time.

I must first express some sympathy for the Minister. I once held the post that he now holds and I know that there is a temptation in the House to criticise the Government whenever there is a disaster. Hon. Members must recognise that, for better or for ill, the Department extracts a sum from the Treasury in these circumstances; one can argue that it is not sufficiently large, but it is a sum. Under law, the Department must also meet its obligations to the dependent territories and to the Commonwealth. Then, we all ask the Department to enter into long-term development programmes. By definition, those require long-term funding.

Another problem that is sometimes forgotten is that, before the Department spends even a penny on bilateral aid, a substantial chunk of its budget is extracted to pay our contributions to the European Union. In this crisis, 17 per cent. of all EU aid comes from the United Kingdom. We do not get credit for that and we do not give ourselves credit for it. The EU will have given about 432,000 tonnes of aid to Ethiopia, a fifth of which will effectively have come from the United Kingdom.

We should not be so speedy to criticise the Department for International Development. Given the competing claims on its budget, Ministers have been trying hard to give continuing support to Ethiopia—a food security adviser is there now.

I also endorse the Government's decision not to give further long-term development aid to Ethiopia while the war against Eritrea is raging. We have few enough carrots and sticks in these circumstances. It is sad that the international community has not yet succeeded in making greater progress. The United Nations has not yet managed to establish a line of control.

As the hon. Member for Cynon Valley said, it is extraordinarily sad that a country as poor as Ethiopia is committing so many of its young, able-bodied men to a conflict a long way from home and spending so much money on it. The international community and the United Nations must give a higher priority to resolving that conflict. We have become very bad at international conflict resolution. We have almost accepted the conflict between Eritrea and Ethiopia as a fact of life.

The Department has the capacity to do much more about logistics—a point made recently in the other place by Baroness Chalker of Wallasey, who probably knows more about these aspects of Africa than anyone. The Ethiopian Government's briefing pointed out that pledges are not enough; it is delivery of aid that is needed. During the 1984 famine, the Royal Air Force and others put enormous effort into distributing food aid. In a crisis, one needs disciplined lines of command and controls. The Royal Logistics Corps is a brilliant organisation, which did fantastic work in Rwanda. If the Minister is pressured by the House to do more, he should send members of the Royal Logistics Corps and the Royal Air Force to help distribute food aid in Ethiopia, rather than simply persuading the Treasury to get out its cheque book. That would be a far greater contribution. It is also a visible contribution that would earn respect from the international community and enable us to lever in influence.

I endorse the Government's refusal to give long-term development aid to Ethiopia while the war against Eritrea rages. My right hon. and hon. Friends will probably agree that, while the terrible internal conflict in Zimbabwe continues, the Government must think in terms of sticks and carrots and it would be right to suspend development aid to Zimbabwe until the horrors cease. If one is pursuing a particular policy in one part of the world, it should be pursued consistently.

Considerable progress has been made in Ethiopia since 1984, and the situation has certainly changed since then. The international community appears to have a far better grasp on events, but we are clearly moving towards a crisis. Doubtless the Minister will assure us that, proportionate to the crisis, Her Majesty's Government are doing all that they can. Many people will give him the benefit of the doubt, recognise the limitations within which he works, and hope that he can persuade the House that all necessary steps are being taken. However, if the Government are seen to be responding disproportionately, they will be condemned by the whole country. As has been said, we should learn from previous lessons. We have considerable experience in contributing to food aid distribution in Ethiopia. I hope that, in those and other areas, we can be seen to be doing everything humanly possible.

10.17 am
Mr. Tony Worthington (Clydebank and Milngavie)

Obviously, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I welcome this debate. Given the brief time available, I shall make only one point. In respect of the war, we must not let Ethiopia off the hook. We all carry the heavy burden of war throughout the world. Fifteen of the top 20 recipients of European aid are involved in wars and conflict.

I want to discuss the speed with which the European Union reacts to such crises through its European Community Humanitarian Office. In pursuing its stated task of ensuring that goods and services reach crisis zones quickly, ECHO repeatedly fails. That is a recurring problem. Wherever one goes, one sees evidence of ECHO's failure. We were told that European aid had been provided to ease the famines in Somalia, but we saw no evidence of that on the ground. Eventually, we discovered that the aid was stuck in warehouses in Mombasa, Kenya. It took many months to reach Somalia.

On visiting Mozambique, we discovered a similar problem. The Commissioner arrived on 1 March, long after the crisis had passed, and announced aid of €25 million. That money was not planned for; one did not know where it was going, and it would be spent long after the event. Similarly, the International Development Committee criticised ECHO's actions in Kosovo.

In Ethiopia, it is the same old story. Announcements are occasionally made that the European Union is to give relief food, but where it goes or when it turns up is covered in mystery. Arabic News—which, of course, I read daily—reported on 8 November 1999 that Ethiopia was to get 46,000 tonnes in EU relief. Where did it go? I believe that 30,000 tonnes of it has just turned up in Djibouti. However, it is five months late and its arrival in Djibouti does not mean that it will be quickly distributed in Ethiopia.

On 10 April, the Relief Web and the BBC reported that the EU plans to ship 800,000 tonnes to the region this year. Commissioner Nielson said that if we can now plan in a reasonably professional way to ship 800,000 tonnes, that will be a good start. Does the EU have plans or merely vague aspirations? I suspect that it may be the latter.

Two days later, the position changed. On 12 April, Chris Patten, standing in for Mr. Nielson, told the European Parliament that the Commission had programmed the delivery of 283,000 tonnes. A close reading of his words reveals that that includes the 48,000 tonnes that should have arrived last year. He also said that the EU was about to decide on the delivery of an additional quantity of up to 260,000 tonnes.

The organisation does not know what it is doing. What happened to the 800,000 tonnes that was mentioned two days earlier? Oxfam has said that the EU failed to meet its commitment last year. It provided only half the food that it promised and is now more than a year behind on its pledges.

ECHO does not give the impression of being under control. If one really wants to lose faith in it, one should go to its website. Clicking on the icon for financial decisions and selecting Ethopia brings up the information, "Beneficiary: Ethopia: last statement 16 December 1998". There is no reference to money going in or to the target population. The events section of ECHO's website gives information about events of September 1999. The speeches section offers the speeches of Emma Bonino, the former European Commissioner with responsibility for humanitarian affairs, who is no longer in post. If one looks up parliamentary questions asked about ECHO, it appears that the most recent question was asked on 6 April 1998. ECHO News, the organisation's publication for the public, seemingly last appeared in December 1997. ECHO does not know what it is doing; it is out of control. That is crucially important, because it claims to be the world's largest donor of humanitarian funds and is our major representative in that respect.

This problem concerns not only Ethiopia, but the entire Horn of Africa. Sudan, Somalia, Kenya, Eritrea and Djibouti are under the threat of drought and the position may worsen if the next rains fail to arrive. This is not an emergency such as that in Mozambique—an act of God whereby the rains suddenly fell out of the sky—because it was predicted. In July 1999, the Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs referred to the worsening drought in Ethiopia. Reference has already been made to the running down of the food stores—for example, the European Union borrowed 80,000 tonnes that it did not return.

Will the Minister explain the basis on which we contribute to ECHO? I have looked at the statistics on the amounts that are contributed by the countries involved. Astonishingly, the Netherlands is the most generous contributor. The Scandinavians contribute a large amount, while our contribution is approximately average. The French, Portuguese and Greeks give virtually nothing. I am beginning to think that they are wise in that respect.

I believe in international organisations. The hon. Member for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter) asked for evidence of situations in which they work. They do work—the World Food Programme delivers brilliantly. On occasion, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has worked well, but it does not always do so. However, I have never heard people praise ECHO's contribution to any emergency. What is the Government's view?

10.24 am
Mr. Bowen Wells (Hertford and Stortford)

I shall be brief. I congratulate the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge) on securing this important debate and the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) on her contribution.

It is tragic to see on our television screens once again the terrible suffering of the people of Ethiopia. We had hoped that we had found the solutions that would prevent such tragedies from recurring. I am afraid that we all have to take some responsibility. There has been a tragic failure in development and a great failure on the part of the Ethiopian Government. I do not seek to exculpate or to excuse them from their responsibility for this tragedy. Their pursuit of war and their military spending, which the hon. Member for Cynon Valley discussed, have been significant factors. They could have reorganised agriculture and infrastructure in a manner that would prevent the occurrence of such tragedies.

We all know what needs to be done. Twenty years ago, 70 per cent. of Ethiopia was covered in forest, but now less than 20 per cent. of it is. That reduction will affect rainfall and the soil's stability and induce drought. That canopy has to be replaced and we know how to do it—we know how to build dams to trap the water that is necessary to irrigate the trees when they are first planted. However, to do that, we need to put in place a thorough development programme that will encourage people not to cut down trees for heating and cooking purposes—other ways of cooking and providing warmth at night will have to be found.

Although we know how to take such steps, why have we not done so? Why have we not pursued those objectives during the past 10 years, after the previous tragic famine occurred? So far as I can gather, no progress has been made in southern Ethiopia. I imagine that more programmes have been put in place in the Tigrayan areas of Dese, because Tigrayans dominate the Ethiopian Government, which brings us back to the fact that the responsibility for the tragedy lies with that Government and their insane pursuit of a tragic war, which has killed many people on both sides of the border. They have unnecessarily spent huge sums of money on that war.

The British Government created a problem when they changed the direction of aid that is sent to Ethiopia. The Department for International Development decided not to give reduced amounts of money to non-governmental organisations and to give more through Ethiopian Government Departments. The problem with that approach is that once the money has been given, we do not know where it ends up. It has clearly been used to buy arms to pursue the war against Eritrea—it has not been used to preserve the environment, build dams or provide the water that is necessary for drinking, cooking and agriculture. The British Government's policy is mistaken. They must return to the previous policy of sending money to competent NGOs in the field and supporting long-term sustainable development programmes. That might prevent the occurrence of such tragedies.

In the meantime, we have to get food to the starving people and we must do so quickly. My hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Baldry) suggested a quick way to do so. We may also be able to send aid through northern Kenya. We must get the process going quickly, get ECHO to provide the money and, above all, have the food delivered to the people who need it as quickly as possible. I beg the Government to take emergency action, with all our partners, to enable that to happen.

10.29 am
Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome)

I am grateful to previous contributors for keeping their speeches brief, giving me rather more time than I had expected. I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge) on securing this debate. It is an important debate, which ought to extend beyond the normal repertory company of those hon. Members who are interested in international development.

The tragedy is that the debate probably would have extended beyond the Chamber, had it not been for news values that put Zimbabwe in the headlines in the past few days, taking attention away from what is happening in the Horn of Africa. I am afraid that it is a reflection on our society that our view of what should be a priority issue is often dictated by the media. That gives particular value to our opportunity to discuss the issue.

We have had a good debate. My hon. Friend and the hon. Members for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd), for Banbury (Mr. Baldry) and for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells) have all raised the essential issues in relation to what is happening in Ethiopia and Eritrea.

It is not my objective to criticise the Government. Providing effective aid is difficult, particularly in areas such as the Ogaden, which are inhabited by nomadic peoples. The underlying question is how we provide support for development in a conflict situation. It is a truism that the first casualty of war is truth—the second is civil society, especially its capacity to feed and educate the people and keep them healthy. Such issues come to the fore in every conflict situation. It seems to me, in opposition to the conventional view, that it is even more important to get development aid into those areas, to sustain and, where possible, build on the people's capacity to feed and educate themselves and keep themselves healthy under those circumstances. The attention of Governments, and the resources that are available to them, will, inevitably, be directed elsewhere.

What is the most effective way of providing aid? Is it Government-to-Government aid or multilateral aid to Governments? It almost certainly is not. That is why it is so important to find ways for peoples—rather than Governments—to communicate with each other, using effective NGOs, multilateral organisations, and perhaps even tiers below central Government, to provide effective support.

If the world is to deal effectively with the problem, it must be stopped at source. That means doing something effective to control arms and stop the arms sales that allow conflicts—particularly, but not exclusively, in the continent of Africa—not only to flare up, but to continue, year after sad year, with tragic consequences. Britain is far from blameless. The British Government did not cease the sale of arms to Ethiopia and Eritrea until after the conflict had started. Last February, a British company was found to be organising a shipment of arms to Eritrea—the case is with the Belgian courts at the moment—and Britons are still running guns in the Congo. We must take much more effective action both to control arms on a worldwide basis and to control the activities of arms brokers. We have the same argument about that time and again. The question is, when will it happen and when will effective action will be taken?

My third point relates to the comments of the hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington), who asked how we should create an effective rapid reaction force. We all pay lip service to that concept and say that the United Nations should be doing more, but what an example the European Union sets with the gross deficiencies of its present arrangements. I agree with the hon. Gentleman. I do not think that we should send money to the European Union for this purpose, because far more effective action can be taken by the non-governmental organisations that exist in Britain and the international development teams that the Government have at their disposal. Why on earth should we use a route that has proven time and again to be ineffective and to lack proper urgency?

The constant problem is not merely the quantum of aid in terms of finance and food, but the means of getting it to the affected area. If the world community is to deal effectively with natural catastrophes, or catastrophes that have more than a little to do with the human element—as is the case in Ethiopia—we must have the means of getting goods from one place to another. In the Horn of Africa, east Africa and the whole rim of the Indian Ocean, such resources do not exist. It is not that they are not deployed in time; they simply do not exist, and they will not exist until the international community decides that it has to meet the need. It is no good asking our armed forces and our navies to help with such problems in areas that are far from their sphere of influence and from the locations that they usually patrol, which it takes weeks to reach and which they will have the wrong equipment to deal with. That was exactly the problem that the hon. Gentleman experienced in trying to assist in Mozambique, and it will happen time and time again in an area of the world that is prone to natural catastrophe but for which we do not have the resources to meet the need.

I hope that countries that are rich and have the civil and military resources will consider the rim of the Indian ocean and think about how to establish permanent resources to deal with crises in that area. I hope that that is not too utopian a view. Some countries are not always in the lead in providing resources. Indeed, some rich countries that are not a million miles away from the Horn of Africa might be tempted to contribute a little more to establishing a permanent resource that would be available as a contingency.

We can deal with problems in the Mediterranean, which is on our doorsteps. At a push, we can deal with problems in the Caribbean, which is on the doorstep of America and is the focus of some European interests. We can even deal with problems in the Far East. However, we cannot help the huge area under discussion, where so little exists and where the countries are so poor. With the best will the world, the Governments in the region are unable to deal with massive acts of God or acts commissioned by man that result in misery and tragedy for so many people. They are rendered powerless to deal with them by a combination of their history, the debt with which they are saddled and other different pressures.

I should like to leave the Minister with that one point. I do not imagine that he has a magic wand that will enable him to achieve those aims, but I ask him to argue seriously for them in the international forums in which he speaks. I hope that Britain can begin to take a lead in these important matters.

10.39 am
Mr. Gary Streeter (South-West Devon)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge) on winning the opportunity to have this debate, which concerns a very important matter. I shall try hard not to duplicate the excellent contributions that have been made. I want to give the Minister plenty of time to answer, which is the purpose of these debates.

It is heartbreaking to see the pictures that have been on television. The Horn of Africa, not merely Ethiopia, is affected. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Baldry) that it is foolish to ask what the United Kingdom Government are doing to sort things out, as though they have a magic wand and can be everywhere and do everything. That is unrealistic politics. As I gain more experience in this context, I feel that it would be better for the Government to focus resources in preference to spreading them widely.

I am not saying that the problem is directly our Government's responsibility. The Government of Ethiopia must take primary responsibility for the way in which they spend money and use resources. It is good that we live in a world where more and more people know what is happening around the globe. Through globalisation, multimedia and technology, more and more people in developed countries such as ours find it utterly unacceptable to stand by and watch children die of famine in the 21st century. I welcome the increased involvement in the developed world of millions of ordinary people.

What is happening in Ethiopia shows up some of the fundamental issues with which people involved in development try to work? It highlights the responsibility of Governments. It raises the dilemma of what we should do to help a country whose Government are guilty of corruption and misuse of funds. It brings to our attention the distinction between long-term development and immediate humanitarian aid and the vital question of where the United Kingdom should focus its primary efforts. It leads us to ask how we can dispense essential humanitarian aid during conflict and it focuses our minds on the role and effectiveness of the multilateral agencies.

What we are doing to help resolve the conflict? As the Secretary of State has often said—and I agree—the key to helping a country in conflict is to bring the conflict to an end. That is common sense. Since the end of the cold war, we no longer have so much influence, through the power blocs in the east or west, with Governments in the developing world. The old colonial relationships are falling away. Both those changes are to be welcomed, but they lead us into a vacuum in which we wonder who has the primary responsibility for intervening in the conflict in Ethiopia and Eritrea. Which nation state is seeking the lead role? What are the United Nations, the European Union and the United States doing? I hope that we do not fall between two stools, with no country taking the lead. Perhaps, if aid and development departments are too carefully separated from foreign offices and diplomacy in Governments such as ours, full use will not be made of the leverage that development and aid can supply in bringing Governments to their senses.

What is the United Kingdom Government's policy on dispensing aid to countries in conflict? Simply cutting aid is a short-term and probably wrong-sighted response. Why are we cutting £20 million from our development budget for Ethiopia in the next three years? Would not it be better to suspend payments to the Government if they misuse the money, but to pump the same support through the non-governmental and other bodies that make up civil society there? Many of those bodies can tackle long-term issues such as education, heath care and the strengthening of civil society. I agree absolutely with my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells) that the right response is to pump equivalent support through the NGOs rather than suspend payments to the Government.

How do the Government justify cutting aid to Mozambique—another country in turmoil—in the next three years? I do not understand the decision; I am not sure that the British Government understands it. I would love an answer to the question. Is it not baffling and upsetting that the sum cut from Government support to Mozambique in the next three years equates roughly to the sum given by the British people to the appeal launched some months ago by the charities? If that is the way in which the Government are playing the situation, it is a disturbing trend.

On our response to aid to countries in conflict, how can the Government justify cutting the aid to the Government of Ethiopia while increasing it to the Government of Zimbabwe, which is also a country in conflict? I am not seeking to cause trouble for the Government, I simply do not understand the way in which they justify the move.

The Government may say that they are pumping money into Zimbabwe through the NGOs, as I have called for, but that is not the case. Most of our support to that country goes directly to its Government. Some of it goes to the police force—the same force that is standing by and watching white farmers being beaten and killed. What signal is that sending out? Zimbabwe is involved in conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo. We are told that 70 per cent. of Zimbabweans are opposed to the involvement. Military equipment worth $200 million has been lost and wasted by the Zimbabwean Government, which is involved in ethnic cleansing. Will the Minister give us an answer today? I have asked several times. How can they justify continuing their support for Zimbabwe while cutting support to Ethiopia?

I want to explore with the Minister the role of multilateral agencies versus nation states. The hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington) gave a compelling contribution on the role and performance of the ECHO.The Independent yesterday described in detail the EU's procedure for making the decision to send aid that is required before aid can be sent and properly distributed in the right place.

Do we not learn again and again that the response of the United Nations and of the European Union is often deeply disappointing? Are two options not before us? We could put much more energy and attention into trying to improve the performance of the multilateral agencies. I would love to hear what the Department for International Development seeks to do on the matter. What focus are the Minister and the Secretary of State placing on getting a better performance from those organisations? Are the Government concluding, as many of us are, that time and again the response to such crises by nation states far outweighs the performance and response of the multilateral agencies? The difficulty is one of lack of co-ordination. What are the Government doing to improve co-ordination between nation states on situations such as those in Ethiopia and Mozambique?

We are told that such situations will arise more and more because of climate change. A key issue in the 21st century will probably be how we decide the way in which to respond. The hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) set out a five-point plan for the Government's response to Ethiopia, with which I agreed so much. There is a lack of clarity in the Government's response to the Ethiopian crisis and to countries in conflict generally. Will the Minister bring an end to that confusion and spell out precisely what the Department will do in response to countries in conflict in general and Ethiopia in particular?

10.49 am
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. George Foulkes)

Like everyone else, I congratulate the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge) on obtaining this debate, which I welcome, although I would have welcomed a little more time to reply to it.

I take no lessons from the hon. Member for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter), the Opposition spokesman. I have been a spokesman on international development for years, but the hon. Gentleman has never asked a question on the matter or taken part in debates on the subject. However, I shall take note of what was said by the hon. Member for Richmond Park and other hon. Members.

It is sad that the debate is necessary. Indeed, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) said, it could have taken place at any time during the past 20 or 30 years. The story is far too familiar. Environmental degradation, military conflict, pressure from a growing population and ill-judged policies are a lethal mix. They bring hunger and misery on a massive scale. As my hon. Friend the Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington) pointed out, the international community's response is in many cases far too slow. We respond to the television pictures, but when the media interest dies down, we return to the same cycle. We should take time to consider the problem in a more measured way and learn from such sad examples as Ethiopia.

Although the food situation is certainly critical in the south and east of Ethiopia, the crisis is not on the same scale as that of 1984–85. That is not only the Government's view; it is what the 15 international non-governmental organisations working in Ethiopia said in their press release in Addis Ababa last week. Ethiopia is one of the poorest countries in the world. More than half the population scrapes by on less than $1 a day, and 85 per cent. of the people depend on agriculture for a living. Rural Ethiopia is exceptionally poor. Food insecurity is a common cause of rural poverty.

Every year, between 2 million and 3 million people experience food shortages. That situation has been made worse by the failure of the rains in the past three or four years. The 8 million people who are defined as being at risk are those who live in households with a chronically insecure food supply. Those people are desperately poor. For a large proportion of them—perhaps as many as 5 million—it would not matter whether it rained or not. Their principal problem is not drought but poverty—real, long-term, grinding poverty.

The press release issued last week by the 15 NGOs ended with the statement, with which we agree, that the people of Ethiopia need peace, a subject raised by the hon. Member for South-West Devon. The Algerian presidency is trying to resolve the conflict on behalf of the Organisation of African Unity. The President of Algeria has invited the Foreign Ministers of Ethiopia and Eritrea to Algiers in the coming weeks for further discussions. We and our international partners continue fully to support the efforts of the OAU. We have urged both sides—I now do so again—to co-operate with the OAU mediators to end that futile conflict immediately.

The 15 NGOs' also suggested that more development was needed and that debt relief was necessary. How true that is. Food aid will not lift those 8 million people out of their long-term, chronic poverty: sustainable economic and social development will. The Government of Ethiopia knows that; indeed, they have made good progress since they came to power in 1991. That success has attracted substantial support from the international community. The tragedy is that the war with Eritrea has seriously affected Ethiopia's economic and social progress. We cannot dismiss that as though it were unimportant.

I shall cite some statistics that were not previously available. Comparing the current financial year with the period from 1995– 96 to 1997–98, recurrent expenditure on defence has almost tripled as a percentage of gross domestic product. At the same time, expenditure in the social sector fell from 3.7 per cent. to 3.4 per cent. of GDP. More worrying is the fact that capital expenditure in the social sector—investment for the future in schools and health centres—has dropped by a third during the past two years. Domestic borrowing has risen and external reserves have halved.

Those figures highlight the unsustainability of the military conflict, which has caused dialogue between the International Monetary Fund and Ethiopia to break down. External assistance has, sadly, been reduced and grant financing by donors has been halved. It is difficult to estimate how much aid the Government have lost as a result of the war, but a good estimate is between £90 million and £165 million. That is all the more serious and regrettable because, in the pre-war period, public expenditure was becoming poverty-focused.

Hon. Members mentioned working with NGOs. We continue to provide support for NGOs. We are involved in programmes with Farm Africa—I, too, welcome the Speaker's initiative on that—and SOS Sahel and the affiliated regions. But hon. Members, especially mems of the Select Committee, know that to create real change, we need to work directly with Governments who have pro-poor policies. If they do not, we work around them with the NGOs. The two approaches are not in conflict; they are complementary with good governance.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley mentioned debt. The war has had an effect on Ethiopia's access to debt relief. Britain has taken the lead on obtaining debt relief for countries such as Ethiopia. It should have reached its heavily indebted poor countries decision point by now. Sadly, however, it is unlikely to do so this year, even if it quickly resumes its dialogue with the IMF. Its payments to service the debt will consume resources that could and should be spent on the poor—the very people we have heard described today and who we see on our television screens. That is another calamity of that unnecessary war.

The war has also affected the relief effort. The hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Baldry) referred to logistics in his helpful contribution. Unlike the hon. Member for South-West Devon, he understands what it is like to be in government. The war has diverted trucking capacity and increased costs by making grazing land inaccessible, denying rural households additional income sources in Eritrea and denying access to the ports of Massawa and Assab in Eritrea. The Ethiopian Government have argued that the ports are not well placed to help with the relief effort. As my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley said, how can it be easier to manage a relief operation through two ports—Djibouti and Berbera—rather than four? It defies logic.

An international effort is under way to bring help to Ethiopia. Some 85,000 tonnes of food was brought into the country in the first quarter of the year. Substantial pledges have been made—433,000 tonnes from the European Community for this year and a further 110,000 tonnes by June next year to help replenish the emergency food security reserve, which we helped to establish. The hon. Member for Banbury rightly said that we pay 17 per cent. of the cost of that package. Total pledges are adequate to cover existing food requirements, but they need to reach the people in need quickly. We are providing more assistance and pressing the EC to speed up its procedures to move food quickly. Some 30,000 tonnes was delivered through Djibouti last week. The assistance is arriving.

We also need to remind the Ethiopian Government of the need to play their part. I welcome their pledge to provide 100,000 tonnes of food aid, but only 7,000 tonnes has been delivered and none to the hungry of the Somali region. Food shortages have been exacerbated by drought, but they have not been caused by drought alone. In fact, 1999 was the third best agricultural production year in Ethiopia's history. The main rains last year were good, and wheat and pulse production figures were high. Could not the Ethiopian Government have taken the opportunity to provide food aid to those areas where the rains have failed in successive years to help those communities cope?

An importance governance issue is involved, as hon. Members said. Is it reasonable to blame the international community alone? Of course we have a responsibility, but we cannot be blamed for the plight of so many of Ethiopia's people. Their Government also have a responsibility. It is not true that we have cut humanitarian assistance to Ethiopia because of the war. We see humanitarian assistance not as a carrot but as something that must be provided. Like all other major donors, we have reduced long-term development assistance, but we would like it to be restored. When a successful peace deal is achieved in Ethiopia, we will continue our long-term development assistance to Ethiopia and Eritrea.

If I had more time, I would respond to the questions asked by several hon. Members and explain why the hon. Member for South-West Devon is, as usual, completely misguided about Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Ethiopia—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Time is up.

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