Famine (Sub-Saharan Africa)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:58 pm on 30th January 1991.

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Photo of Tom Clarke Tom Clarke Shadow Minister (Disability) 8:58 pm, 30th January 1991

I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman did not repeat it this evening. I think that he is mellowing in his new role of elder statesperson.

I shall refer to another knight who may have influenced the right hon. Gentleman's speech. Almost every right hon. and hon. Member who has spoken in this debate has referred to the crisis in the Gulf, as one might have expected. If my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) has done the House a service by pushing for this debate and by her excellent speech, followed by a similarly excellent one from my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Central (Mr. Watson), it is that she has encouraged the House to focus on a major issue—that 27 million people are in danger of dying now.

When the House returned after the Christmas recess on 14 January and the Leader of the House in a statement about the business for that week said that there would be a debate on the Gulf, I was given the opportunity to ask a question. I pointed out that we might be having a debate of this kind. That led the distinguished sketchwriter for the Daily Mail—we genuinely enjoy his contributions from time to time—Colin Welch, to tell his readers that I had helped to create some confusion. He did not see the link between the problems in the Gulf and 27 million people facing death or, at least, poverty and malnutrition.

I was anxious to remove any confusion, so I wrote to the editor, Sir David English, offering to do a piece which might help to remove the confusion which I had inadvertently caused. I received a courteous reply from him and the House may be interested to hear what he said. It tells us what the press are thinking during these difficult times. Sir David said—we seem to have a lot of Sir Davids in these debates— I understand the point that you make but let me tell you as a professional journalist that, at a time like this, the public are interested solely in the major event. There would be no interest in other crisis areas at this time. So I would not be interested in commissioning or publishing a piece such as you suggest. I am sorry.Yours sincerely, Sir David English".[Interruption.] Before my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley returned to the Chamber, I said that I thought that she had done us a great service in initiating this debate.

If that is the thinking of the British press today, as Sir David indicates, it is all the more reason why we should address these issues, as our motion does in a modest way. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will feel able to support us in the Lobby.