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Overseas Development

Volume 77: debated on Monday 15 April 1985

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Food Aid

24.

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.

Ethiopia

25.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the famine in Ethiopia.

30.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement about the famine in Ethiopia and future United Kingdom Government plans for aid and assistance.

Several million Ethiopians remain at risk. Relief supplies are reaching many of those in need but distribution and other problems persist. Pledges of food aid to Ethiopia for 1985 total more than 1 million tonnes. We shall continue to provide emergency and food relief. both directly and through the European Community.

What part in total has Britain played in bringing about any improvement, how great is the remaining need, and what more can we do?

In recent months we have made a significant contribution to Ethiopia amounting to some £34 million. We have provided food aid, the RAF Hercules detachments, trucks, other transport and other supplies. We have also met our share of the substantial European Community contribution. The needs remain considerable, and we intend to play our part for the remainder of this year.

Is it not obvious that the problem in Ethiopia is not one of insufficient food—because there are ample supplies, at least until the end of this year—but of distribution? In commending both public and private contributions from the United Kingdom to that unfortunate country, is it not a matter for condemnation of the Ethiopian authorities that they cannot distribute the food? In many cases they have inhibited other countries which have offered to distribute that food to the people who need it.

My hon. Friend is broadly right. The overall quantities pledged to Ethiopia look as though they should be enough for this year, but there are serious problems about internal distribution. In our view the Ethiopian Government need to fulfil their promise of nearly 4,000 vehicles for relief and rescue operations on food movements. We also believe that too great a share of their resources are at present going on resettlement.

Is the Minister aware that there are many lessons to be learnt from the handling of the famine in Ethiopia? Will he assure the House that those lessons will be appreciated by all the aid donors, the multinational organisations and volunteer agencies, in order to be ready for the next famine in another African country?

I assure the hon. Gentleman that we have thought hard about what has been happening in Ethiopia and Sudan. Tragic though the experience is, I am sure that we shall learn from it.

The Minister will be aware that the problem in Ethiopia also relates to refugees in Sudan, whom the House debated earlier. The problem relates to debt. Recently we have seen a fall of the Government in Sudan largely because of the debt crisis. What advice has the Minister given the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who will attend a joint meeting of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank about this issue later this month, to ensure that meeting Africa's needs is a priority issue and that there is a debt write-off or, at least, a grant funding of some of the debts so that those countries can tackle the appalling drought problem?

The debt problem in Sudan is a different matter from the famine in Ethiopia, to which the question relates. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will be thinking hard about how to handle debts in the meetings which take place in Washington this month. No one doubts the importance of that, although, as I have already said, one of the positive features of our aid programme in Africa is that for poor countries aid takes the form of a grant and, therefore, does not generate debts.

European Development Fund (Contracts)

27.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what is the share of contracts from the European development fund won by British companies.

Twenty-five per cent. of EDF contracts are placed in African, Caribbean and Pacific countries. Of those placed in Europe, our cumulative share at the end of 1984 was 192 per cent. For the first time that exceeded our contribution of 17·76 per cent.

I thank my right hon. Friend for what is essentially good news. How do the 1984 figures compare with those of previous years? Does he agree that Third world countries depend for their growth as much on vibrant trade with nations such as Britain as on development aid?

The 1984 figure of 19·2 per cent. was nearly 2 per cent. more than the 1983 figure. As my hon. Friend said, that is an encouraging tendency He is absolutely right to stress the importance of trade

Does the Minister not regard it as a great tragedy that in places such as Bradford there are large numbers of skilled engineers who could be put to work manufacturing tractors, irrigation and agricultural equipment, trucks and other items which would help to combat the food crisis in Ethiopia and elsewhere? What are the Government doing to invest in manufacturing projects in the United Kingdom, which would put British engineers back to work and help to alleviate starvation in the world?

Almost 80 per cent. of the money that we spend through our bilateral aid programme finds its way back to Britain in the form of either goods or services. It is also a fact that the European development fund, the World Bank and other multilateral organisations offer many opportunities, which are often taken up, for British manufacturers to make goods to be sent to the Third world.

Leeward Islands Air Transport

28.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether Leeward Islands Air Transport has yet reached an agreement with British Aerospace for the purchase of Super 748s with an aid grant from Her Majesty's Government.

Leeward Islands Air Transport has entered into a contract with British Aerospace, subject to finalisation of ECGD support and the conclusion of a formal agreement between LIAT and Her Majesty's Government on the terms of the proposed aid grant for two Super 748s. LIAT has already accepted the broad terms of the Government's offer.

While thanking my right hon. Friend for that useful and welcome reply, may I ask him, first, what is the sum of money involved and, secondly, whether there are any other sources of finance for this welcome order?

We have offered an aid grant from our aid-trade provision up to a maximum of £3·83 million. I understand that the Caribbean Development Bank is providing resources for two other 748 aircraft.

African Governments (Debt Burden)

29.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what discussions he has had with African Governments concerning the impact of their debt burden on the effectiveness of aid programmes.

My discussions wih African Governments about aid policy from time to time take into account, as appropriate, their debt burdens. Debt problems normally feature within the analysis of aid needs and economic policies considered at each World Bank-led consultative group.

The Minister will be aware that at least £42 billion worth of debt affects African countries as a whole. Since we have this useful chance to further the issue, would he now care to say whether and on what scale in the IMF and World Bank meetings there will be pressure from the Chancellor to write off a proportion of that debt, without which there will be no way in which countries such as Ethiopia or Sudan can overcome their debt problem?

I do not believe, and nor does my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that the wholesale writing-off of debts is the right answer. However, we have made it clear that, to help countries with balance of payments difficulties, we are willing to consider providing programme aid if they can come to an agreement with the IMF.