Developing Countries (Famine and Debt)

Part of Opposition Day – in the House of Commons at 6:46 pm on 11th June 1985.

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Photo of Mr Timothy Raison Mr Timothy Raison , Aylesbury 6:46 pm, 11th June 1985

Very well; I am sorry. However, the right hon. Lady will know that the international machinery has been enlarged and greatly improved since the famine in the early 1970s. The United Nations Disaster Relief Office was set up to act as a clearing house. The World Food Programme and the Food and Agriculture Organisation provide regular and detailed information on food aid pledges and shipments and on port and inland transport conditions. We receive a six-page telex from the World Food Programme every week and many documents on food availability from the FAO every month. In dealing with the African crisis we have seen the appointment of Mr. Brad Morse by the United Nations Secretary-General to cope with the emergency operations.

In the Community there is a new ad hoc committee meeting regularly and co-ordinating our bilateral and Community responses. There is also a new emergency unit in the aid directorate of the Community, which was set up last December. All these developments are helping to produce a more effective response. I do not think that they are the totality of the answer, but the mechanisms have improved.

Experience has shown recently that it is possible to get hold of food, thanks to the famous mountains, the surpluses, and their equivalents. We have been able to acquire food quickly. The securing of food has not been one of our problems. I think that the right hon. Member for Clydesdale must recognise that the provision of permanent stocks in every conceivable risk area would be enormously expensive and difficult to maintain. There is ample evidence that the storage of food is far from being an easy matter. There must be some storage facilities and supplies where they are most needed, but more important is an effective mechanism for ensuring that we can get food relatively easily to where it is needed. That is something that we have developed.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) said that in dealing with these problems we must take account of the follies of man as well as of climates. He referred to Eritrea and Tigre and said that we should insist on ceasefires in all the wars that are taking place in Africa. My right hon. Friend is right, but we must remember that we cannot intervene in ways that we would like in countries that are independent. We have supported Mr. Jansson's efforts to arrange a safe passage in Ethiopia. I acknowledge that they have not met with success, but we have pressed hard the importance of treating the starving and the famine-ridden and attaching to that the greatest priority.

It has been suggested that the Community aid programme could be used rather more rigorously to achieve our policy objectives. The new Lome convention allows greater policy dialogue and gives a greater change to achieve policy changes, which is all to the good. The Community has made it clear that in the last resort it will suspend aid where there is gross abuse of human rights. However, we are operating on behalf of the people of independent countries. We cannot walk in, tell them what to do and resume the colonial burden.

The essence of what we are about is to give effective aid. It is important to remember that we are giving aid in Africa and in other areas where there are desperate problems, such as Afghanistan, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Cranborne) referred. As my hon. Friend knows, we have provided substantial aid for Afghanistan. I have allocated a further £4 million to help the refugees in that area who are suffering so tragically.

The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) talked about the credit scheme operated by the Grameen Bank of Bangladesh. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that that is an important job. The work is promising and we support the scheme through our membership of the International Fund for Agricultural Development. We are fully prepared to take part in the next replenishment of IFAD, and we regret the fact that the negotiations have been stalled. We hope that they will be resumed as soon as possible. We hope also that the Americans will find their way to coming in on terms which can be agreed among us all. When I go to Washington in the next day or so I shall be prepared to convey that message. It will be sensible to achieve the replenishment and then to consider what to do next about any further activities.

We have heard a good deal during the debate about targets and resources. We operate under public expenditure constraints, and we can hardly counsel sound finance to the developing countries if we do not practise it ourselves. However, we have a substantial programme that is running at roughly the overall average of OECD countries. More important than that, perhaps, is the scope and direction of our aid programme. It is too easy to think that aid is a matter of throwing in resources. Some of the parrot cries that we hear do no good to anybody. If there is one lesson on aid, it is that the policies of aid programmes must be right. Above all, that is true in Africa, where the problems are most severe.

It is fair to say that Africa has not lacked aid over the post-war years and that it does not lack it now. However, I firmly believe that there must be a workable strategy. That strategy is not to be found in Socialism. African Socialism is one of the burdens that has afflicted that continent. A workable strategy must be found in realistic policies that tackle the great needs of Africa. There must be co-ordination between donors and sensible economic policies. Incentives must be given to key producers, notably the farmers. There must be research into the best ways of growing food and rearing livestock, and the results of that research must be disseminated. There is a need for appropriate technology. There is a need to get to grips with enfeebling bureaucracy. There must be a recognition that development will not come without scope for private investment, the operation of markets and resistance to protectionism.

We are now seeing policies emerge—this is true of the major institutions such as the World Bank and our bilateral partners as well as ourselves — which are designed to cope effectively with the fundamental and long-term problems which so afflict Africa.

Therefore, I urge the House to reject the Opposition motion and to support the amendment.