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Food Aid

Volume 77: debated on Monday 15 April 1985

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asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he is satisfied with the amount of food and aid currently being distributed in Eritrea and Tigre; and if he will make a statement.

Although food and other relief supplies are arriving in Ethiopia in large quantities, I believe that there is a serious shortfall in Eritrea and Tigre. The United Nations co-ordinator is discussing this with the Ethiopian authorities. At the United Nations conference in Geneva last month the Ethiopian Foreign Minister gave a solemn pledge that relief supplies would be distributed to all those in need, without diversion, delay or discrimination. Together with other donors, we are working to ensure that that pledge is honoured.

I thank the Minister for that reply, and I am glad to hear that the Government intend to maintain pressure on the Ethiopian Government. Is the Royal Air Force still dropping supplies in Eritrea and Tigre?

The RAF is still carrying out its food aid operation, and we shall carefully consider its continuation.

May I ask about the impact of this programme on the rest of the aid programme? While we appreciate that my right hon. Friend has a contingency fund for emergencies, does not the size and scale of this year's disaster in east Africa and the length of time it is likely to last make a case for an upward revision of the entire programme? Is my right hon. Friend aware that there will be much support from some Conservative Members if that could be arranged?

I understand my right hon. Friend's point, but I have already announced at the Geneva conference a provisional figure for the quantity of emergency relief which we expect to provide as a minimum, and we can contain that figure within our aid budget.

Does not the present crisis and what the right hon. Gentleman said about the United Nations demonstrate the need for an overall strategic policy for the distribution of food? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that there is now a need to turn loans into grants in respect of the 30 poorest countries, and does he further agree that there is a need to diversify in the nine African countries which rely on just one crop for 70 per cent. of their income?

The hon. Gentleman has asked a diversity of questions. This country and quite a number of other major donors already turn loans into grants, and quite right too. As to overall strategy, we are thinking very carefully about the totality of our policy in Africa, where many of the greatest problems clearly lie.