Oral Answers to Questions — Overseas Development – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 11th January 1988.

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Photo of Mr John Marshall Mr John Marshall , Hendon South 12:00 am, 11th January 1988

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the amount of assistance being given to Ethiopia.

Photo of Mr Ian Bruce Mr Ian Bruce , South Dorset

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a further statement on the British contribution to alleviating famine in Ethiopia.

The Minister for Overseas Development (Mr. Chris Patten): I returned yesterday from a visit to Ethiopia. I believe that our response to the emergency has been generous, but a sustained effort by the Ethiopian Government, donors and voluntary organisations will continue to be needed this year. In the course of my visit I therefore announced the allocation of an additional 40,000 tonnes of food aid, which we will deliver in the coming months. This will be channelled through international and voluntary agencies.

With this allocation our contribution to the food aid needs of the Ethiopian people totals 94,500 tonnes, and the overall cost of our assistance, including our share of European Community relief programmes, totals some £35 million since the beginning of last year.

We will continue to monitor the situation closely, and will consider if there is more that we should do.

Photo of Mr John Marshall Mr John Marshall , Hendon South

Will my hon. Friend tell the House how the assistance given by the United Kingdom and other European Community states compares with that given by the Soviet Union to its client state, Ethiopia? Will he also tell the House whether, during his recent visit to Ethiopia, he was able to raise with the Government the matter of human rights in that country?

Mr. Patten:

On the first point, we have so far pledged 94,500 tonnes of food aid. As. I understand it, the Soviet Union has so far committed itself to providing 2,500 tonnes of rice to Ethiopia. The European Community has pledged over 200,000 tonnes of food aid to Ethiopia. Those figures speak for themselves. I do not have the figures for armaments.

On the second point, I raised the issue of human rights in a discussion with the deputy Prime Minister of Ethiopia. I also referred to political prisoners and, in particular, to the imprisonment of members of the royal family.

Photo of Mr Ian Bruce Mr Ian Bruce , South Dorset

On his visit to Ethiopia, was my hon. Friend able to assess the harm done to the aid programme by the continuing war? Was he able to gauge whether there are any moves to bring peace to that troubled land?

Mr. Patten:

It is extremely difficult to run a relief operation of the size required in Ethiopia in any circumstances. It is clearly even more difficult in the circumstances of war. The main threat over the next few months will come from the security situation. We should be able to get food to Ethiopia in sufficient quantities and to deal with the other logistical problems, but there is a real worry that we may not be able to truck food around Ethiopia. The European Community has called for peace in the Horn of Africa. That would be the best way of securing development in that region.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Does the Minister accept that it was a great surprise to many people in the West that famine again broke out in Ethiopia? Does he also accept that the only way of securing long-term prevention of famine is by long-term development aid? Will the Minister tell the House why that aid has been blocked until now and why even voluntary agencies have not been able to use Government funds for their food projects in Ethiopia?

Mr. Patten:

The major reason for the present situation in Ethiopia is that it has not rained. That is the reason for the crop failures in Eritrea and Tigre. We and other donors have drawn a legitimate distinction between humanitarian assistance and long-term development assistance. There is no point in long-term development assistance unless one supports effective and sensible policies, as other donors such as the Swedes would argue. I hope that the Ethiopian Government are now changing their agricultural policies. That would be in the interests of the Ethiopian people and would unlock a considerable amount of development assistance from the European Community, the World Bank and other donors.

Photo of Tom Clarke Tom Clarke Shadow Minister (Disability)

Is the Minister aware that, just a few days ago, Moira Hart, the UNICEF emergency relief officer, was able to show me a list of donor contributions to the specific UNICEF appeal for emergency aid? Although that list covers contributions from, countries such as the United States and the Republic of Ireland, there is a significant absence of any contribution from Great Britain. From his own experience, does the Minister accept that the need for non-food aid is outstanding and urgent? Therefore, will he explain to the House why there is such an omission?

Mr. Patten:

The hon. Gentleman will have heard me say earlier that so far this country has contributed about £35 million in humanitarian assistance to Ethiopia. We have done as much as anyone, and more than most. We shall, of course, continue to keep other appeals under consideration, and we shall provide resources to them when we think that it is right and necessary to do so.