Overseas Aid

Opposition Day – in the House of Commons at 6:48 pm on 14th May 1991.

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Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East 6:48 pm, 14th May 1991

I must announce to the House that I have selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister. Furthermore, may I say what I said at the beginning of the debate. As many hon. Members wish to participate, I ask not only Members on the Back Benches, but those on the Front Benches, to make short contributions.

Photo of Ann Clwyd Ann Clwyd Shadow Secretary of State for International Development 7:13 pm, 14th May 1991

I beg to move, That this House believes that the Government's response to crises in Iraq, Bangladesh, and Sub-Saharan Africa has been slow and shamefully inadequate; and calls on the Government immediately to provide additional resources for the Overseas Development Administration to deal with the three current crises and to set a timetable to meet the United Nations aid target of 0·7 per cent. of gross national product. Over the past few weeks, we have heard much talk about aid fatigue and compassion fatigue. Indeed, with the horror of the disasters appearing daily on our television screens and in our newspapers, it is convenient for Governments to run for cover behind those phrases as an excuse for doing less and less. I am sure that that charge cannot be laid against the Minister for Overseas Development. I know that she is indignant about any suggestion that she is dragging her heels in responding to the great human tragedies of famine, flood and war that have hit our planet.

I know that the Minister dearly wishes that the Chancellor would respond to her pleas to expand the aid budget so that she need not blush every time the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development raps the United Kingdom over the knuckles for being so mean. We were not surprised to hear her plaintive cries last week when she told the House that it was time to seek to make the aid programme grow in real terms"—[Official Report, 8 May 1991; Vol. 190, c. 734.] She hoped that that would be achieved, but as the aid programme has been stagnant for two years with no real increases planned, perhaps she can tell us today if she would like even more help from the Opposition to enable her to make her case to the Chancellor.

The case for increasing Britain's aid is strong. While the British have been horrified at what they have seen on television and read in newspapers and have dug deep into their pockets, the Government's response to the current disasters has been little short of shambolic. The scale of recent disasters has been exceptional, but the Government's response has certainly not been exceptional. There is no doubt that what has been given has saved many lives, but it has not been enough.

I shall deal with the most recent emergency first. The cyclone in Bangladesh on 29 April was one of the worst disasters in history to hit the region. Hundreds of thousands of people have already died and up to 10 million have been left stranded without homes, land or crops. The United Nations and the Government of Bangladesh have appealed for $1·4 billion—£840 million—for immediate relief, but the total United Kingdom response has been just £6·5 million. The United Kingdom's contribution to the appeal for Bangladesh, based on our share of the gross national product of OECD donors, should be more than £50 million. Last week, the Minister and the Prime Minister claimed that Britain's response was the largest of any donor, but Saudi Arabia has pledged £62·5 million and now, while our one Royal Fleet Auxiliary ship makes its way slowly to the Bay of Bengal, the United States marines are already there.

In Africa, the situation has been getting worse, and now it is desperate. Twenty-nine million people face starvation in 25 African countries. In total, Africa needs 5·2 million tonnes of food aid, but only 1·4 millon tonnes have arrived. There are just a few weeks left before the rains arrive, making the roads impassable. If the food pipelines are not filled now, millions of people face death by starvation.

The United Kingdom's total famine relief since last September amounts to £67 million, much less than the Overseas Development Administration's drought-related aid to Africa in 1984–85 when 1 million people died. That would be worth £135 million at today's prices.

In its report on the 1984–85 famine, the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs said: The generosity of the British people has not been matched by the British Government. If that was true then, how much more true is it today? The problem is that the ODA does not have the cash to cope and the Treasury apparently refuses to give new money.

The Minister will try to assure the House that the ODA's budget is managed flexibly to cope with disasters, but, as the same report by the Select Commmittee on Foreign Affairs states: The aid budget is designed to have a certain flexibility to enable it to cope with emergency relief. It is not designed to be able to cope with emergency relief on this scale. Again, if that were true then, it is even more true today.

Not only is the ODA strapped for cash but its existing resources are draining away into the coffers of the Ministry of Defence. In 1984, when the airlift to famine victims in Ethiopia began, the Ministry of Defence paid the full cost. Then the cost was split 50:50 between the ODA and the Ministry of Defence for four months in 1985. In total, the ODA paid £8·3 million of the £21 million that the airlift cost, so why is the ODA now paying the full cost of military relief operations in Kurdistan and Bangladesh? Those costs involve £2,000 an hour for Hercules flights and £2,500 an hour for Chinook helicopter flights. If only the ODA had the clout to send the bill back to the Ministry of Defence.

In Germany, the Defence Department recognises the training value of using the military in civilian disasters. Therefore, the cost is shared between the military's training budget and the aid budget. The British Ministry of Defence's training budget is almost as large as the entire aid programme. The costs should be shared in the same way.

It is clear that the extra £20 million from the Treasury is going straight back into the MOD's pocket. It does not even cover the full cost of the MOD's bill, so the Overseas Development Administration's contingency reserve must be disappearing very fast indeed. As The Independent reported on 6 May, the £20 million was agreed before the Bangladesh cyclone, but the Minister said she would be pressing the Chancellor for more money this week. What happened? Did she try? Did she fail? In February, in an interview with The Guardian about United Kingdom famine relief for Africa, the Minister said: If I needed more money I could go and get it. Dare she say that again today?

The Minister said that she will have a stronger case for more money when her contingency reserve is all gone, but she cannot afford to wait. Last year she had to tell starving people in Africa to tighten their belts because the kitty was empty and the Treasury refused extra money. It is only the immense political pressure and the horrifying television pictures, along with the personal appeal of Mr. Jeffrey Archer, that squeezed new money from the Treasury for the Kurds. We can all be too sure that when contingency funds are needed next winter for a less politically sensitive part of the world, the ODA will be throwing up its empty hands in despair and the Treasury chest will remain firmly locked.

It is not surprising that the ODA is strapped for cash, because the aid budget has been slashed, as I and many of my colleagues and Conservative Members have said many times in the House. It is still 11 per cent. lower in real terms than it was in 1979. United Kingdom aid, as a percentage of gross national product, fell from 0·51 per cent.—and rising—under Labour in 1979 to 0·31 per cent. in 1989. Despite claims by the Government that the aid programme is growing, it is stagnant in real terms. The planned aid budget for 1993–94 is worth £1·7 billion in today's prices —exactly the same as the aid budget for this financial year.

The ODA's response has been slow as well as small. After the cyclone in Bangladesh, millions of people on flooded land could be reached only by helicopter, yet the ODA loitered for 10 days before even deciding to send four Sea King helicopters on the Royal Fleet Auxiliary ship Fort Grange. They will not arrive for another week or more. When a disastrous cyclone hit Bangladesh in 1970, there was a British amphibious squadron there in just over a week and the Minister—wooden leg and all—was there in under a week.

We knew about the looming famine in Africa last September, so why did the ODA delay over half its aid for this emergency until last month? One reason is that it had run out of money, so it had to wait until the 1991–92 financial year. Another reason is that the Sudanese Government did not publicly admit the scale of the tragedy then, but we should not care whether the Sudanese Government bend on one knee or two to ask for aid when we could be saving starving people.

The ODA lacks not only the cash to cope but the staff, too. Few realise that the ODA's disaster and refugee unit is basically an enabling organisation that signs cheques in support of voluntary agencies. The unit's staff were increased from four to six to deal with the Kurds, and from six to nine a few weeks ago—a sorry contrast to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's around-the-clock Gulf crisis unit, with 50 personnel. The excellent but overworked staff have simply been unable to co-ordinate all the requests for and offers of aid. The disaster and refugee unit needs extra staff now to screen offers of assistance, filter incoming information and monitor the distribution of aid.

The ODA has also been unable to tap the generosity of the British people. Offers of assistance from doctors, nurses and relief workers around the country have been wasted because the understaffed disaster unit has been unable to process them. Tonnes of clothes have been left in warehouses because the ODA has not had the resources to fly them to the Kurds. For example, due to simple misunderstandings and lack of information, the ODA delayed flying 50 doctors from Cornwall for over a week.

Disasters are not a new phenomenon. Surely the mechanisms for dealing with logistical problems should be in place by now. There should be warehouses of stocks, or a system to tap into commercial stocks. As The Daily Telegraph, in a very good article headed "Emergency Aid —Why we need a force for action"—said: What has happened in Iraq is that the system has been exposed by the size of the catastrophe … So it is on such occasions that the British Government is exposed as having no system at all. The French have a force, an inter-ministerial committee and a minister. The article went on: The Disaster and Refugees Unit is a first class lubricator of the work of the voluntary agencies, who swear by it. But at that level it was never designed to cope with the big emergency. What is needed is recognition on both sides of the House that the British Government does not have a disaster relief system. The Minister tried to deflect criticism of Britain's response by attacking the United Nations and the European Community, but she is criticising the very agencies that this Government have undermined and underfunded. United Kingdom contributions to nearly all the United Nations development agencies have been cut by this Government. Funding for the United Nations Development Programme has fallen by 52 per cent. in real terms since 1979. On 9 April, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees appealed for $238 million for Iraqi refugees, but one month later less than $100 million had been pledged. According to the UNHCR, every cent has been spent or committed—usually before the ink was dry on the cheque. The United Kingdom's contribution of $95,000 was the lowest of all.

Photo of Mr Philip Goodhart Mr Philip Goodhart , Beckenham

Does not the hon. Lady acknowledge that our contribution to the main UNHCR fund last year was the sixth largest of any country—that it was twice as large as that of France, four times larger than that of Italy and larger than that of Germany?

Photo of Ann Clwyd Ann Clwyd Shadow Secretary of State for International Development

That does not negate the point that I was making. If one looks through the list of United Nations agencies, one finds that in almost every case—the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund, UNDP and others—the British Government's contribution has been cut drastically. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said, "We can do the job. Give us the money." Therefore it is totally unfair for the Government to criticise UN agencies when they are not prepared to give them the money to do the job. As Mrs. Ogata said: The UNHCR is not able to mount massive relief operations on credit. If further special allocations are not made immediately, the entire humanitarian effort will be in dire jeopardy. In the case of the European Community, I understand that it was the British Government who led the discussions to reduce the European Community's special food aid programme for Africa by 20 million ecu. It is the Council of Ministers that refuses the Parliament's request to establish a permanent emergency aid reserve chapter in the EC's budget.

I have already outlined the immediate need for new money for the aid budget, for more emergency relief and for more staff in the disaster unit, but there is much more that must be done in the coming months and years. After the immediate relief effort, the next priority will be aid for reconstruction. The victims of famine in Africa and of the cyclone in Bangladesh need seeds, tools and cattle if they are to plant anything for the next harvest. The economy of Bangladesh has been devastated. The Bangladeshi Government have made it clear that the appeal for $1·4 billion is for immediate relief needs only and that there will be further appeals for reconstruction aid. Will that be forthcoming?

Before the next disaster strikes, the ODA's disaster unit must be revamped. It needs contingency plans to expand, with suitably experienced staff being available as soon as a major disaster breaks. Regional co-ordinators should be found to co-ordinate donations on behalf of the ODA during disasters. An ODA internal evaluation of the response to famine in Africa from 1983 to 1986 found that there had been little contingency planning by the ODA for such a large-scale disaster. It said that more staff were needed and that staff were too busy to monitor the implementatoin of relief efforts funded by the ODA or to plan ahead. It recommended training for members of the disaster unit. Have any of its recommendations been implemented?

Gales strike the coast of Bangladesh every day. Gales and cyclones will kill thousands more unless there is adequate investment in early warning systems and cyclone shelters. About 4,000 cyclone shelters are needed, but at present there are only 350. Our bilateral aid programme to Bangladesh is one of the largest. It should support a strategy for disaster prevention in future. In Africa, aid should be invested in early warning systems, with regionally held food stocks, transport systems and other measures to prevent a drought from becoming a devastating famine.

A mobile emergency volunteer force is needed. Doctors, engineers and other experts who volunteer to assist in times of emergency should be sent immediately to where they are needed; hence, selection and co-ordination must occur in advance. In Switzerland, disaster relief units can second experts for two to three months and emergency teams co-ordinate with the United Nations. In France, Medecins Sans Frontieres was working with the Kurds on Iraq's borders within days of the exodus.

Some mechanism must be found to tap the skills of British experts and to ensure that emergency relief reaches those in need as soon as possible. The Government should either set up a state-funded register of experts, as in Switzerland, or ensure that non-governmental organisations can afford to retain experts who can be sent out at short notice. We already have a capable disaster relief squad in the armed forces. The new international climate makes in impossible for the armed forces to be more involved in civilian as well as military emergencies, as The Daily Telegraph wrote: The forces' stock in trade is getting there 'fastest with the mostest' and nobody does it better.

Photo of James Paice James Paice , South East Cambridgeshire

I hope that the hon. Lady will refer to the part of the motion which calls on the Government to set a timetable to meet the United Nations aid target of 0·7 per cent. of gross national product. What timetable would she wish to set, and what timetable would a Labour Government set?

Photo of Ann Clwyd Ann Clwyd Shadow Secretary of State for International Development

I shall send the hon. Gentleman a copy of the relevant section of our manifesto. We have promised that the next Labour Government, not now long awaited, will increase our percentage of GNP to 0·7 per cent. within the first five years of taking office.

United Nations agencies, particularly the disaster relief organisation, should be strengthened. Ministers, including the Prime Minister, are talking about the need for a new international agency for disasters. What do they intend to do about that? The right hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Patten), the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, talked of precisely that when he was Minister for Overseas Development in 1988.

I remind the Government that the United Nations Disaster Relief Organisation already exists. We should strengthen that existing organisation before inventing new agencies. Once the United Nations agencies are assured of sufficient cash to operate effectively, it will be worth reviewing their mandates to strengthen their roles. In particular, we must ensure that they can meet the emergency needs of people displaced in their own countries, as well as those of refugees who flee abroad.

The root causes of disasters, particularly conflict and poverty, must be tackled. Resolving bitter conflicts and civil wars is the only long-term solution for Africa, just as peaceful autonomy is the only solution for the Kurds. There are signs of hope, such as the recent agreement between the Angolan Government and UNITA for a ceasefire and elections. But all peace negotiations need to be underpinned by the international community through the United Nations. The richer members of the United Nations must be willing to give it the clout and financial resources to monitor and guarantee the peace process in Angola and elsewhere.

Poverty turns a drought into a famine or a cyclone into a human tragedy. Poverty forces millions of Bangladeshis to eke out a living in paddy fields on flood-prone lands. One of the poorest countries in the world, Bangladesh cannot possibly afford to build 4,000 cyclone shelters or spend 6 per cent. of its GNP on sea defences, as the Dutch do.

Action Aid's report on British aid to Bangladesh in 1988 found a massive shift from project to programme aid and increasing commercialisation of aid. It reported that little was spent on projects directly benefiting the poor. Long-term sustainable development is ultimately the best way to prevent disasters. Radical action is needed to alleviate the poverty of 1 billion people and to reduce the debt burden that is keeping third-world countries poor. Action to prevent global warming is vital, too, if storms are not to become more violent and frequent. As Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan said on 5 May: Unless you have some kind of new economic order, people will continue to move North: all the barbed wire, laws, and immigration controls in the world—nothing will prevent that. A new economic order means debt relief, improved trade, more aid and a massive investment by north and south to eradicate poverty. Sadly, the British Government are not promoting such an economic order. We should lead the way forward at the G7 summit in London in July by launching an attack on poverty and debt, and if the Prime Minister has the nerve to call an election in June, the new Labour Government will do exactly that.

If the British Government are committed to alleviating poverty and promoting sustainable development, they know well the next step to take. It is to set a timetable to meet the United Nation's aid target of 0·7 per cent. of GNP.

Photo of Ann Clwyd Ann Clwyd Shadow Secretary of State for International Development

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will forgive me for not giving way. I am bringing my remarks to a close.

The United Nations is more entitled to criticise the British Government for taking Britain away from the United Nations aid target than the Minister is entitled to batter the United Nations for its failures. I cite these examples of the Minister's criticisms of the United Nations: I am concerned about the lack of speed of the United Nations in dealing with the problems … In the meantime, there is much work to be done in providing relief. In that sense, the United Nations must get its act together … We want an effective United Nations reaction, but it is taking a long time to get up and running".—[Official Report, 22 April 1991; Vol. 189, c. 777–82] Those are exactly the criticisms that we make of the British Government. Could it be that the Minister is looking for a scapegoat? Is it not a fact that she and her Government colleagues have lacked speed, that they should get their act together and that they need to get up and running? Perhaps they are suffering from fatigue—the fatigue of a tired and worn-out Government.

Photo of Mrs Lynda Chalker Mrs Lynda Chalker , Wallasey 7:39 pm, 14th May 1991

I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof: 'welcomes the Government's swift and continuing generous responses to the crises in Iraq, Bangladesh and Sub-Saharan Africa; and also welcomes the Government's initiatives to ensure the continuing effectiveness of United Kingdom aid and to stimulate improved international disaster relief delivery.'. No one can look back on the vivid images of recent weeks without being moved by the suffering of so many fellow human beings. In the Gulf region, we have seen Iraqi refugees trekking into inhospitable mountains and across national boundaries to escape one man's tyranny. In Bangladesh, whole communities have been swept away by natural disaster. In Africa, a devastating combination of natural and man-made disasters threatens life on a scale at least as great as any that we have seen.

I am sorry that the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clywd) chose to put her case as she did.

Photo of Mr Dale Campbell-Savours Mr Dale Campbell-Savours , Workington

The Minister is reading, so how can she say that?

Photo of Mrs Lynda Chalker Mrs Lynda Chalker , Wallasey

If the hon. Gentleman wishes to intervene, I will give way, but it is a little early in the debate. I am not reading; my remarks are not on the brief in front of me.

I particularly regret the hon. Lady's use of the words "slow" and "shamefully inadequate". I believe that she does not mean the words to be accurate or descriptive but uses them for effect, like the absurd claim made last week that the Government have a "secret agenda" for raising VAT. Although the subject of Labour's motion is aid, the context is its ongoing and futile election campaign.

Photo of Mr Peter Blaker Mr Peter Blaker , Blackpool South

The House heard the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) read out the proposals that the Labour party has just made for reaching the United Nations target of 0·7 per cent. of GNP. Is not that exactly the same promise, almost word for word, that the Labour party made in 1974? Will my right hon. Friend the Minister tell the House how many times, in the 17 years that Labour has been in power since the second world war, a Labour Government have reached that figure?

Photo of Mrs Lynda Chalker Mrs Lynda Chalker , Wallasey

My right hon. Friend makes a valid point. Labour Governments have always accepted the 0·7 per cent. of GNP target, but in none of those years did they reach it. I do not blame the hon. Member for Cynon Valley for that, because we have not reached it either. However, we have no chance of reaching it unless we have proper economic growth, and we have proper economic growth only when the economy is properly managed. It was proved in 1976 and 1977 that we shall never have that under a Labour Government.

Photo of Mr Max Madden Mr Max Madden , Bradford West

Will the Minister take a second to compare the pitiful number of journalists reporting this debate in the Press Gallery with the much larger number of men and women in the Public Gallery? The British public are greatly moved by what they have seen on their television screens in recent months in Africa, Bangladesh, Iraq and Iran. I would be prepared to have a small wager with her that most people would be prepared to forsake any tax cuts that the Government may make for a positive promise to deliver what they want—a war on the poverty that they see throughout the world today. I hope that, in what remains of the debate, the Minister will say how the Government will deliver that commitment rather than play around with party politics in a pre-election campaign.

Photo of Mrs Lynda Chalker Mrs Lynda Chalker , Wallasey

The hon. Gentleman's last words reveal exactly what he is about.

I wish to deal with the real world disasters that we now face. They are global in nature and demand a global response. I am proud of the part that Britain continues to play in our work overseas and to be associated with the efforts of the many people currently engaged in the British aid effort, whether it is in humanitarian terms, such as emergency relief, or in the regular development programme. That includes all my officials, the non-Governmental organisations, volunteers and hundreds more besides, many of whom have worked the longest weekday hours that I have every known and nearly every weekend since the end of March. I am deeply grateful to them. They have done it willingly—they have not been press-ganged into it—and they have had increased support as the weeks have gone by and new disaster has come upon new disaster.

Before I speak about the major elements of our response to disasters, I shall say a few words about their causes. At first sight, there may seem to be little that we can do to prevent the droughts and cyclones that have afflicted Africa and Bangladesh. However, underlying their impact are factors such as population pressure and poverty. which the hon. Member for Cynon Valley mentioned. We continue to tackle those through carefully targeted development aid. That is why I announced increased population planning grants for the International Planned Parenthood Federation and the World Health Organisation. When I saw Dr. Sadik, the executive director of the United Nations Fund for Population Activities yesterday, I announced a 25 per cent. increase to £7·5 million.

We are also working in Bangladesh—which has been so sorely hit by the awful cyclone and the subsequent bad weather—with the World bank and other donors to put in place one of the largest population projects ever established, worth over $600 million, £12 million of which is the United Kingdom's contribution. We have been seeking to focus our work on poverty, particularly in the Asian countries, and 70 per cent. of British aid is going to the poorest countries in the world. I agree that poverty must be a key focus in our aid programme but we are carrying that through in our regular development programme and shall continue to do so.

Photo of Mr Charles Morrison Mr Charles Morrison , Devizes

My right hon. Friend's remarks about the increased aid for the population programme are welcome, but will she do her best to encourage other nations, particularly the United States of America, to follow suit? Their record in recent years is disgraceful.

Photo of Mrs Lynda Chalker Mrs Lynda Chalker , Wallasey

My hon. Friend makes a valid point. We have already been working with other donors to try to make them increase their contributions on population planning. I hope that they will listen because we firmly believe in a constructive mother and health care programme, which can best be achieved by sensible family planning schemes throughout the world through bilateral and international programmes.

It is less easy to tackle the scourge of war, which is one of the other main problems affecting many developing countries. Those wars have contributed so much to the tragedy of Africa. There are signs of progress and we welcome, in particular, the preliminary ceasefire agreement in Angola and the talks to be held in London next week between the Ethiopian Government and opposition groups. Sadly, there are fewer signs of optimism for the people of Sudan, Somalia and Liberia, who still face fighting day in and day out. I assure the House that the Government will continue to work strenuously for peaceful solutions to all Africa's conflicts.

We must encourage good government in the developing countries. It is important not only for human rights but because good government, sound economics and free markets are essential if people are to feed themselves and corruption is to be rooted out. The hon. Member for Cynon Valley will agree that that is one of the key problems to be resolved. I was sorry that I could find no room for good government in the Labour party's latest policy document, "Opportunity Britain".

Donors should encourage developing country Governments to stop fighting endless civil wars. The Governments of those countries should let their farmers get on with trying to grow their produce and selling it in a peaceful and free market.

Photo of Mr David Alton Mr David Alton , Liverpool Mossley Hill

The right hon. Lady will recall that, while she was absent on a trip to the Horn of Africa, one of her colleagues at the Foreign Office assured the House that funds would be made available for transportation in the Horn of Africa. The hon. Lady will know that some money has been made available, but the major aid agencies, in particular Christian Aid, say that Hercules aircraft are still not flying and transportation has not been provided. Can she tell the House anything about that?

Photo of Mrs Lynda Chalker Mrs Lynda Chalker , Wallasey

All the food aid sent to Africa by this country has been accompanied by covering transport costs. I have made it a policy that when we give food aid, we must ensure the means of its arrival at the proper destination. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will agree that we have been seeking to plan ahead. There have been many problems in Sudan. I only hope that, since the arrival here of the Sudanese Minister of Finance, with whom we had some vexed words, a little more progress is being made in Sudan. The Sudanese Government have at least begun to talk about the size of the problem faced by Sudanese people.

It is not enough for disaster relief to be swift: it must also be effective. We heard a lot from the hon. Member for Cynon Valley about slowness. However, when dealing with such disasters, in addition to consultation with the relevant Governments, other donors, the international relief agencies and our own non-governmental organisations, we also need to ensure that all those factors are brought together. That means that not only we, but other donors, must be ready to dispatch the right assistance.

Sadly, there have been far too many examples of over-stretched transport facilities, clogged up with well meant, but unwanted, relief items, and of well-intentioned volunteers who have been prevented by the authorities overseas from joining the relief effort. The hon. Lady mentioned that, and I want to mention the problems that have occurred in Turkey, Iran and Iraq, where second-hand clothing, willingly donated by so many people, was turned back as unacceptable. That may seem strange, but we have to pay the cost of transporting the clothing, and if it is turned back as unacceptable it is obvious that we would have been better off using the money for other purposes. It is very sad that thousands of tonnes of unwanted clothing were sent overseas.

In the early days of the Iraqi refugee tragedy, there were people from other countries—not this one—hanging around airports in Turkey and elsewhere who were unable to leave and provide the help they wanted to give because they were not permitted to leave. All our volunteers have gone to the camps and places where they can help. That was why I insisted on careful planning, preparation and consultation in the country of the disaster to ensure that the donor assistance reached its target. None of those priorities seems to be reflected in the Opposition's approach.

Photo of Mrs Lynda Chalker Mrs Lynda Chalker , Wallasey

This is the last intervention that I shall take or I shall not be able to respond to the debate.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , Linlithgow

Will the Minister consider the situation of some Iraqi students at universities such as the Heriot Watt, which is now desperately short of funds. Those students are precisely the sort of people that would be useful in future in a rebuilt Iraq.

Photo of Mrs Lynda Chalker Mrs Lynda Chalker , Wallasey

I am sure that if those people are willing to volunteer, they will be considered along with the many others who have done so.

I am also sure that we are right to ensure that the contributions that we make, whether to the United Nations or anywhere else, are well targeted. Earlier this year, before the Kurds, Shias and others left their homes, the Overseas Development Agency contributed £8 million to the United Nations agencies to meet the expected refugee outflows from Iraq. But as we now know, those plans were overwhelmed by the sheer flood of refugees towards Turkey and into Iran. At that time, the United Nations expected about 400,000 refugees to come into Iran, Turkey, Jordan and Syria, but in truth, more than 2 million refugees have crossed the borders into Iran and Turkey.

In the seven weeks since the human trek to safety began, the ODA has committed a further £62 million in humanitarian aid to Iraqi refugees, in addition to the special contribution being made by British troops. I shall return to the issue of Ministry of Defence costs later. The sums committed since Christmas, which total £70 million, are by any measure a substantial response to the needs of the Iraqi people.

We have flown more than 1,000 tonnes of tents, blankets, food and medicine into Turkey and Iran by cost-effective commercial flights. We used the RAF's Hercules and Chinooks to deliver that aid to the people in the mountains and on the roads, often in the most appalling conditions. So far, we have spent £6·7 million on the air bridge in Iraq, Iran and Turkey, £5 million of which is the additional cost of using MOD equipment.

We have financed the activities of British NGOs. Last week, 91 volunteers with medical, nursing and rescue experience went to provide every assistance to the refugees still in the mountains and help them make their difficult journey south and west to their towns in Iraq. More volunteers will follow them to carry through the work and extend their excellent contribution to the Iraqi people. I know that the hon. Member for Cynon Valley thought that that should have happened sooner, but it is no use saying that when planning is dependent on the position at the other end, as well as those who come forward and the preparations that are made.

Photo of Miss Betty Boothroyd Miss Betty Boothroyd Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. The Minister has made it clear to the House that she will not take any more interventions.

Photo of Mrs Lynda Chalker Mrs Lynda Chalker , Wallasey

I have indeed, Madam Deputy Speaker, so as to allow as many speakers as possible to contribute to the debate. I have taken more than six interventions already.

Britain has led the international efforts to find a long-term solution to the crisis. It was our Prime Minister who willed the creation of safe havens in northern Iraq. From the beginning, British troops have been involved in the establishment of those havens. There is still much to be done—[Interruption.]

Photo of Miss Betty Boothroyd Miss Betty Boothroyd Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. The hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) was heard in good order. I hope that the same courtesy will be extended to the Minister.

Photo of Mrs Lynda Chalker Mrs Lynda Chalker , Wallasey

There is still much to be done, but I know that the House will be encouraged by the fact that refugees are now coming down from the mountains and moving into the safe areas in substantial numbers. That same process is also beginning to happen from parts of Iran. The UN's role is now developing in Iraq. To help that operation get under way, I announced Britain's contribution of $10 million to UN humanitarian relief for the region early last week.

In Bangladesh, Britain has led the relief effort. Our initial response of £6·5 million was one of the first and, then, the largest. More has since been added by countries such as Saudi Arabia, but that country has pledged its money not for immediate relief, but for reconstruction. One needs to look at the detail of what has happened.

In Bangladesh we financed the urgently needed supplies of tents, blankets, food and medicine, as well as tackling the appalling disruption of communications by paying for a Royal Fleet Auxiliary, with four helicopters with substantial disaster relief stores, nine boats and a detachment of Royal Marines. ODA vehicles are in use in the flooded districts and boats, including some from the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, are distributing food when the weather permits.

Britain has financed two United Nations disaster relief experts in Chittagong from the beginning of the crisis. As always, we are working with British and local NGOs, who are doing a magnificent job to deliver relief to those in need. Our NGO co-ordinator from Dhaka set up an office in Chittagong a week ago to provide on-the-spot assessments and ease co-ordination among aid organisations locally.

However, it is in Africa that 29 million people face the worst disaster. The continuation of drought, long-running civil wars and economic mismanagement have worsened the crisis of starvation and illness. Britain's response has again been swift and substantial. The £90 million pledged by ODA since last September includes 158,000 tonnes of bilateral food aid, much of which is for the horn. That makes Britain the second largest contributor of food to the region. Britain will continue to play her part, but we need other donors to contribute too. That is why, for more than six months, I have strenuously pressed for more urgent action for Africa by other donor countries and the European Community. More than 800,000 tonnes of food will now be financed from the Community budget, with more to follow from other member states. But the crisis in Africa is a long way from being over. Our job over the next few months will be to continue to save lives and give people the means by which they will be able to feed themselves in future.

I now come to the financing of aid. We have heard more than enough carping about money from the hon. Member for Cynon Valley in recent weeks. We have also heard a lot about targets. The Government remain committed to the principle of the United Nations aid target, but I shall not attempt to compete with the hon. Lady to see who can promise to spend the most. Spending money for the sake of it is easy. Making that money really effective where people need relief is another matter.

We started this financial year with an aid budget of £1,721 million. It is a substantial programme—the sixth largest in the world. Its value has grown in recent years and it is planned to continue to grow in real terms. Our aid is well targeted and effective. Its quality and professionalism are praised by the OECD's development assistance committee and by the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs.

We provide humanitarian relief without diverting resources from our planned development programmes, because humanitarian relief comes from funds set aside for that specific purpose, calling as necessary upon the Overseas Development Administration's in-year contingency reserve. In exceptional circumstances, we also have recourse to the Treasury reserve.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made it clear in a letter to the Leader of the Opposition, in the context of our efforts to help Iraqi refugees, that the Government were prepared to look sympathetically at the case for making additional resources available to the ODA for humanitarian purposes if it looked as though its contingency reserve was likely to be exhausted early in the year.

As the House knows, on 29 April the Prime Minister announced an extra £30 million for the aid programme for continuing assistance to Iraqi refugees. I had no hesitation then about going to the Treasury for that additional money, and I do not hesitate to do what needs to be done. I can assure the House that the Government will continue to look sympathetically at the resources available to the ODA so that Britain can continue to play its full part in the international relief effort to help alleviate the terrible suffering in Africa, and to assist the people of Bangladesh to reconstruct their lives. This afternoon in Brussels EC Foreign Ministers agreed a further 60 million ecu package of co-ordinated assistance to Bangladesh in addition to the initial relief contributions already announced. We are glad to contribute to that.

It is clear that the armed forces constitute a key element in our disaster relief capability. Let me make it clear to the hon. Member for Cynon Valley that the aid programme pays only the extra costs—of fuel and spare parts, for instance—arising specifically from the humanitarian relief operations carried out on our behalf by the armed forces. Our armed forces are doing a magnificent job in Iraq and in Bangladesh, and we applaud them for all that they do. But it is not for Britain alone to provide all the relief, money and solutions. The problems are international and they need international solutions. It is clear that every nation and group of nations must play its full part in a co-ordinated way.

Britain galvanised the EC's decision to provide additional substantial disaster relief—105 million ecu in the case of Iraqi refugees and 115 million ecu for famine relief in Africa in recent weeks. However, it is the UN which should play the unique role of co-ordinating the international response to disasters. I agree with the hon. Lady that the UN disaster relief organisation is good, but it is very small.

Photo of Mrs Lynda Chalker Mrs Lynda Chalker , Wallasey

It has had resources and it will continue to have resources. I look forward to the UN takeover of the relief operations in northern Iraq. We want that to happen, but the transfer must be worked out. That is why discussions continue in Baghdad. A UN resolution may be necessary to achieve that end, but we believe that it is right for the UN to prepare to take on that role in the safe havens in northern Iraq.

I pay tribute to the International Committee of the Red Cross for its outstanding role in the humanitarian aid operations. It has been backed up well by Red Cross and Red Crescent societies, and many other agencies. We applaud their efforts, but it is still the UN which must play the unique role of co-ordinating the international response.

Photo of Mrs Lynda Chalker Mrs Lynda Chalker , Wallasey

No, I have made it clear that, because of pressure of time, I shall not give way.

Photo of Mr Paul Dean Mr Paul Dean , Woodspring

Order. The Minister has made it clear that she is not giving way. This is a very short debate.

Photo of Mrs Lynda Chalker Mrs Lynda Chalker , Wallasey

There is much to be proud of in both the British and the international provision of humanitarian relief, but we must continue to adapt and improve our response mechanisms.

At the international level, only the UN has the power and resources to mobilise the international community, but too often it has been hamstrung by a lack of clear leadership and co-ordination. Institutional improvements and changes in attitude are needed. The UN must lead and co-ordinate the international response to international emergencies. We believe that the time is ripe for reform. We have been discussing that idea with other like-minded countries. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister informed the House on 9 May, we want better international co-ordination of emergency assistance, and we are doing all that we can to bring it about.

We must also ensure the effectiveness of Britain's disaster relief system. In the past, the ODA has worked mainly through non-governmental organisations and other international agencies. They have the skills and experience to deliver effective relief on the ground. Our work has therefore involved the allocation of funds rather than the direct management of relief operations. A small disaster unit was adequate for that purpose, but the nature and extent of disasters have changed dramatically in recent years, and so have our responses. We have become more directly involved in the management of the responses. Increasing use of the armed forces is one aspect of that development. Another is the organisation of teams of volunteers to work in refugee camps such as those on the Turkey-Iraq border. In order to manage such operations, we have strengthened the disaster relief unit and its staff has been doubled. There is now a basic staff of 12.

Photo of Mr Dale Campbell-Savours Mr Dale Campbell-Savours , Workington

Four, six, nine, and now 12.

Photo of Mrs Lynda Chalker Mrs Lynda Chalker , Wallasey

The hon. Gentleman may shout as loudly as he likes, but it is not simply that the number of staff in the unit has been doubled. The rest of the staff in the office are there when their expertise is needed to back up the disaster relief unit. If the hon. Gentleman believes that maintaining a standing waiting capacity in a unit that would be used only from time to time is using scarce aid funds effectively, he has got it wrong.

Putting extra staff into such a unit is only one aspect of the challenge. The management of our disaster relief has already been under review. We shall strengthen our operations system by maintaining a permanent register of volunteers from this country with appropriate skills and experience. The first stages of that initiative have already been set up and have been used. That register will continue to be used because the volunteers will give us the capacity to mobilise multi-disciplinary relief teams at short notice.

I understand the frustration of some hon. Members. I understand their mood, but one thing that I know above all is that the value of the humanitarian aid that Britain has been providing and will continue to provide is second to none. There are a great many dedicated people both inside and outside Government who make that possible. We intend to make their efforts even more effective.

The Opposition motion is misconceived—it is a disgrace, and I ask the House to reject it.

Photo of Mr Peter Shore Mr Peter Shore , Bethnal Green and Stepney 8:09 pm, 14th May 1991

I shall be brief, not because the subject invites brevity but because many hon. Members want to speak in the debate.

This has been a year of exceptional disaster for millions of people in Africa, Asia and the middle east. The effects of three great calamities are with us. The first is the plight of nearly 2 million Kurds and 500,000 Shi'ites who fled from their homes in Iraq to the border areas of Iran and Turkey. The second is the ever-increasing threat of famine for millions of people in the Horn of Africa and Mozambique. The third is the violent cyclone that engulfed the islands and coastal area of the bay of Bengal only a fortnight ago.

On Thursday, the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs was given the welcome news that the two helicopters on the Royal Fleet Auxiliary Fort Grange had been increased to four. The news about that had been given the day before by the Minister for Overseas Development. I also understand that five American helicopters and four additional ones from India have arried in Bangladesh. That will greatly augment the capacity of the Government of Bangladesh and the relief agencies there to deliver essential supplies to the scattered communities on the islands and in the flooded areas around the bay of Bengal.

Unhappily, we have not yet seen the end of the calamity in Bangladesh. Since the great cyclone, a tornado has hit part of Dhaka, the rivers have flooded around Sylhet, and a second cyclone is reported as moving up from the Anderman islands area. The short-term measures that are now in hand to rescue people from starvation and disease from only the first part of a crisis programme. As my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) made plain, the cyclone and its floods destroyed crops, drowned livestock, wrecked boats and severely damaged the infrastructure in the Chittagong area. Millions of people have been severely affected, and well over $1 billion-worth of damage has been caused.

Because of the poverty and shortage of resources, neither the Government of Bangladesh nor the people there can supply the seed, the livestock, the shelter and the boats that are required to rebuild their shattered lives and communities. That will make continuing demands on our emergency aid programme.

Inevitably, the budget of the Overseas Development Administration has been overwhelmed by the demands of those three crises, and its contingency reserve of about £70 million has already been used up or is certainly well committed. Of course there will be a generous response from people all over the country, and especially from the Bangladeshi communities, to the call for aid funds. However, if we are to make a continuing and effective response, further funds over and above the £30 million that I understand the Treasury has already committed will be necessary, and will have to come from the Government's contingency reserve. I am glad to have the right hon. Lady's assurance that she will press for extra funds, because they will undoubtedly be needed.

We should consider, however briefly, not only the immediate crisis but the longer-term measures that are needed to prevent or at least to mitigate similar disasters. There is no doubt that the cyclone shelters, pitifully inadequate in number though they were, were highly effective in preserving lives. However, I am told that none has been built since 1978. Following the great floods in September 1988, flood action plans have again been drawn up by the World bank. The United Kingdom has played a considerable part in drawing up those plans, but their execution, apart from the great embankment at Dhaka, has scarcely begun. If we are to avoid similar catastrophes in the years ahead we must increase our aid budget and must target it more effectively on life-saving projects.

Photo of Mr Bowen Wells Mr Bowen Wells , Hertford and Stortford

Surely the responsibility for building life-preserving shelters in Bangladesh is primarily that of the Bangladesh Government. The right hon. Gentleman will know about the nature of Bangladesh Governments in the past and will know that offers of help were met with resistance and obstruction. The international community, and especially Britain through its aid budget, encountered great difficulty in trying to set up such shelters. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that we should tell the Bangladesh Government that the erection of such shelters should be given priority, and that it is being done on their behalf?

Photo of Mr Peter Shore Mr Peter Shore , Bethnal Green and Stepney

Plainly, the Bangladesh Government have to be the major partner in all efforts to tackle the enormous problems in Bangladesh. Unfortunately, Governments in Bangladesh have been not only administratively inefficient but lacking in accountability to their people because they have been established either by martial law or by rigged elections. Bangladesh has just had, for the first time, a free election which produced a Government who are genuinely representative of the people of Bangladesh. That Government were at once overwhelmed by the tragedy of a great cyclone disaster, and that must earn them rightly deserved sympathy.

Our aid programme has dropped far below the United Nations target of 0·7 per cent. of GDP, which we accepted many years ago. If there is to be a peace dividend from the end of the cold war—as, in time, there will be—there is an overwhelming case for our overseas aid budget having the first claim upon it.

Photo of Mr Philip Goodhart Mr Philip Goodhart , Beckenham 8:16 pm, 14th May 1991

The right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) has made a typically constructive speech, which I am sure commands the support of the whole House. The hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd), who opened the debate, adopted a rather more partisan approach. I am sure that historians will applaud the role of our Government and country in bringing help to the Kurdish refugees in particular.

Under the terms of the United Nations resolutions that formed the basis of our participation in the Gulf conflict, we could not intervene until the Kurds were in flight. There was therefore an unavoidable delay in giving them assistance, but, even allowing for that, the dominant impression that many of us will retain from watching the pictures of the earliest relief efforts is one of avoidable confusion and muddle. That pitiful confusion must raise the question why we do not have a properly organised, Government-supported disaster team that can fly out at short notice to give help when there is a natural or a man-made disaster.

The needs of suffering people are usually the same, whether they have been afflicted by hurricanes, earthquakes, or a breakdown of law and order. They need medical care and drinkable water, and they need communications, so that those who are trying to cope can tell the extent of the disruption and can find out what is going on.

Our armed forces have transport aircraft that can get the right people and the right equipment to the scene of a disaster. The medical services of the armed forces have doctors and nurses who are trained to cope with the casualties of disaster. We have service engineers who are capable of dealing with water problems, and signalmen who can provide the communications that are needed. What we do not have is the system of getting the right people to the right place with the right equipment.

Why do not we have a proper disaster response system? It is not because there is a shortage of ideas. The hon. Member for Cynon Valley quoted freely from an article in The Daily Telegraph by my friend Hugh Hanning of the Fontmell group on disaster relief. He has produced so many practical ideas, and has been churning them out for years.

The ideas of the Fontmell group have been enthusiastically greeted within the armed forces, and similarly by hon. Members on both sides of the House. Indeed, they were cheered by Members of the extreme left and the centre left only a few moments ago. They also have the widest support among the centre right and the far right on the Government Benches.

Why has not more happened? I suspect that the answer is a degree of bureaucratic inaction. Many civil servants, as Sir Bernard Ingham has forcefully reminded us in the past day or two, have considerable energy and imagination. I suspect, however, that the civil servants who man the relevant departments in the Ministry of Defence and who deal with these problems are not equipped with the same imagination and energy. As the hon. Member for Cynon Valley said, they have been a mite too bureaucratic in recent years in charging the Overseas Development Administration rather more than it should have been charged for services rendered.

The ending of the cold war and the restructuring of the armed forces implicit in "Options for Change" mean that the Government have every excuse for reconsidering the creation of a proper disaster relief team that would combine civilian and service personnel. I am glad that the steps will be taken that my right hon. Friend the Minister announced a few moments ago. Sadly, it seems certain that the number of refugees in the world will increase rather than decrease in the years to come. The most acceptable quick fix for dealing with the desperate needs of refugees must be to strengthen the resources of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees.

In the past, the Government have been understandably critical of the competence of some United Nations agencies, but the UNHCR is putting its house in order and is short of cash rather than competence. Like the hon. Member for Cynon Valley, I do not believe that we have any reason to be ashamed of our record in the support of the UNHCR over the past decade. Last year, we were the sixth largest contributor. We provided more funds than Germany did, twice as much as France and four times as much as Italy. If the western world is to begin to cope with the refugee crisis, however, with the flood of refugees in Asia and Africa, the resources of the UNHCR must be increased. I do not believe that it is starry-eyed or idealistic to think of doubling the funding for the organisation during the coming year.

We are good at responding to special appeals, but I was saddened yesterday to receive a letter from a Foreign Office Minister—not my right hon. Friend the Minister of State—that told me that our contribution to the general fund of the UNHCR at the end of the coming year, at £20 million, would be the same as that made this year. I think that we should at least double our contribution, and that we should lead a campaign to encourage other rich nations to increase their contributions as well.

Finally, I make no excuse for returning to the problem of the Vietnamese boat people in Hong Kong. Hong Kong is the only place in the world in which large camps for refugees and asylum seekers are maintained on British territory. I know that the administration of the camps is a continuing source of friction and ill will between the Hong Kong government, the UNHCR and the British Government. Nominally, the camps are run by the UNHCR, but in fact it does not have the funds to do a proper job. Most countries do not contribute to the UNHCR operation in Hong Kong. They specifically exclude Hong Kong, because they believe that Hong Kong is a comparatively rich territory that does not need help.

America has provided more than half the funds for the UNHCR for use in the Hong Kong camps. Japan and the European Community together contributed half as much as the United States. The only other significant help has come from Australia, Canada and Sweden: their combined contribution amounts to one quarter of the American funding.

The burden on the Hong Kong Government has been increased and, in the run-up to the elections in Hong Kong in the autumn, the members of the Legislative Council are saying that they will not provide funds for any new accommodation. On the other hand, the number of people coming from Vietnam, which showed a marked decline last year, is increasing. That is why the Vietnamese Government face severe economic and political problems at home.

The existing camps are intolerably overcrowded, and thousands of young Vietnamese boys and girls are spending their entire childhood locked inside crowded barbed-wire compounds, with rudimentary schooling and no chance of touching, or even seeing, a flower or a tree. I understand the problem we face, and I also understand the Government's reluctance to become directly involved, but we can and should make a greater contribution to help those who are the true victims of compassion fatigue.

Photo of Mr David Steel Mr David Steel , Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale 8:29 pm, 14th May 1991

I preface my few remarks by saying that I agree so much with the tenor of the speech of the hon. Member for Beckenham (Sir P. Goodhart), and especially his reference to the work of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, which is one of the better United Nations agencies. It is one of the more effective, yet it is sorely pressed for funds. I agree especially with the hon. Gentleman's remarks about the refugees from Vietnam. Having seen one of the camps for the Vietnamese boat people in Hong Kong a few months ago, I hope that the hon. Gentleman's words will fall on receptive ears.

It is easy for Opposition parties to say in a debate of this sort that the Government are too slow to act and that they do not give enough in response to disasters. I have a feeling that we would say the same whatever the Government did—so let me get over that at the outset by saying that I too think that they have acted too slowly and given too little.

Mr. Speaker has appealed to us to make short speeches. I wish to make five points, which I hope will be constructive, about the structural lessons to be learned from disasters; if I can make them all in one minute, I shall be extremely pleased.

First, I agree with the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) about the need for the Government to set a general target for their overseas aid budget. One improvement has already been made. The previous Prime Minister never accepted such a target in principle; she never allowed any reference to the 0·7 per cent. figure to escape her lips. Indeed, she always argued that there was a great role for trade and the private sector. I do not deny that, but it is none the less welcome that the new Prime Minister should accept that the 0·7 per cent. target is desirable.

My party is committed to supporting that target within the lifetime of the current Parliament, and we have heard that the Labour party is as well. It would be very pleasant if an all-party consensus could be reached, with the Conservative party putting a date to the target. It would not matter very much if we failed to meet it; if we established an aim, we could at least come back every year and complain that it had not been achieved. Let me make a serious point: we might then move towards the target rather than moving away from it, as we have done in recent years.

I do not want to indulge in too much self-flagellation. None of the G7 countries has reached the target, and West Germany and Japan are at about the same stage as us, while—disgracefully—the United States is well below that level. The Scandinavian countries, however, have demonstrated that they have the political will to achieve the target, and I think that we should do the same.

Secondly, I do not consider it right to raid ODA funds to deal with exceptional contingencies. At the end of her speech, the Minister read out some words that were intended to mollify us, to the effect that, if need be, she would always be willing to go back to the Treasury. That, however, does not answer the point made in 1985 by the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, which stated that exceptional tragedies should not be a charge on the ODA budget. I am sorry to bring up this subject again, but I object in principle to the fact that the Ministry of Defence should be able to say, "Yes, we will help, but the ODA must pay for the petrol."

When we mentioned that last week, the Minister said that we did not understand Government accounting systems. I can only say that, if the Ministry of Defence has to raid the ODA budget to meet some of its costs, those Government accounting systems are wrong in principle. The Treasury should be charged for any extra funds that are needed to deal with such disasters; the ODA budget, limited as it is, should not be expected to contribute to the MoD's costs.

My third point, which appears in the Liberal Democrats' amendment to the motion, relates to the need to establish a more effective rapid-response agency at an international level. I welcomed what the Minister told us about her Department's efforts to establish a register of volunteers; nevertheless, the United Nations Disaster Relief Organisation—apart from being small, as the Minister said—has not the equipment, the staff, the knowledge or the know-how to act quickly.

I am not certain that we have learnt enough from the way in which past disasters have been tackled. I read a report by one of our chief fire officers—I think that it was the chief fire officer in Kent—who had helped to deal with the Armenian earthquake. He made a number of useful points about the need to assemble lists not only of volunteers—the Minister mentioned that—but of agencies, experts, items of equipment, available stocks, tents and supplies of food and water around the globe. That should be done at international level. It is not necessarily a question of stockpiling at great expense in different parts of the world; it is a question of knowing where to go as soon as equipment is required, and of having the machinery to do that immediately.

At present. both the ODA and the United Nations Disaster Relief Organisation respond only to requests made by Governments. During the early stages of the Bangladesh disaster, we were constantly told about the difficulties in communications, and it was said that we were awaiting requests. I do not believe that it is necessary to wait for requests before assembling equipment that will obviously be required.

I followed with great interest what was said by the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore). In the case of Bangladesh, the great embankments that were funded by the World bank seem to have proved less effective than the more limited local facilities that the people would have wanted. There is, I think, a lesson to be learned: when cash is given, it should perhaps be used to finance less prestigious projects that would have a more direct impact on the people involved.

Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord , Suffolk Central

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that there is little point in setting up massive stockpiles that could cost money, when we do not know whether we shall be dealing with a land or a sea disaster, or whether the temperature will be freezing or very hot. He also said, however, that we should have responded to the Bangladesh disaster before we had been told what was needed. Had we done so, we might well have sent lots of inflatable boats, and it turned out that there were a good many there already.

Photo of Mr David Steel Mr David Steel , Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale

What was manifestly not there—and everyone knew it—was a supply of helicopters. As the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney observed, our response in that regard was both slow and inadequate.

In Bangladesh, an immediate injection of cash would have been enormously helpful. Local supplies were available within the country and in neighbouring countries—which, again, was fairly obvious. I am not being pernickety; I am simply saying that, in this age of satellite television, it cannot be right to take the attitude that we should sit around waiting for formal requests from Governments. A more rapid response is required.

Fourthly, in discussing disasters of this kind, we must not lose sight of the long-term programmes with which the ODA and other bodies are concerned. As one who knows Africa better than some of the other areas that we are discussing, I find it deeply depressing that, in the horn, Ethiopia, Sudan and Somalia, famines are recurring that would have been at least partly avoidable if the countries concerned were not wracked by civil wars and maintained by shipments from all the world's arms producers—no doubt including this country in some cases. Another problem is our failure to achieve the standards of irrigation, well-boring and education that are required, on a long-term basis, if we are to prevent the return of famine whenever adverse weather conditions arise. When responding to immediate crises, we must not neglect the long-term needs of that area in particular.

While I am on the subject of the Sudan, let me tell the Minister that my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton), who intervened on her speech, has passed me a fax from Christian Aid. It says that the rations for displaced people near Juba have had to be cut because of transport difficulties. The Minister responded earlier on that; will she now back up the request for extra transport funds that has been made both to the European Community and to her own disaster unit?

My final point is this. It is essential that we consider the disasters in waiting. I refer particularly to the advent of cholera in Peru, where I understand some 2,000 people have already died. Some 2 million may die by the end of the year if the international community does not respond. Sudden, unexpected cyclones are not the only causes of disaster. It is also taking our eye off the ball, being occupied with today's disaster so that we neglect disasters that are in the making.

We have just had a report from Frank Judd in Mozambique—whose appointment to the upper House I warmly welcome; as director of Oxfam, he will bring great experience in this field—and he has warned of coming disaster in Mozambique.

I have also had other reports—from Sierra Leone, for example—where there is a threat that the country may follow the path of Liberia if we are not careful. I hope that this will not happen. What worries me is that here is a former British colony and yet it is the American Government and the Nigerian Government that have given substantial help to the Government of Sierra Leone. I understand—I am open to correction if the Minister wishes—that all we have done is send one military adviser. I believe that we have a particular moral obligation to help a country for which we have been responsible.

As another example, there is the situation, already referred to, in Angola, where, thank goodness, there is at long last to be a peace settlement. But what do we discover? It is not a country in which we have a particular interest—it was, of course, a Portuguese possession—but the French have moved in; theirs has become the second language, and they are the people most interested in developing fishery protection and tackling the long-term development needs.

It is rather sad if we are losing our influence in Africa. We are failing to look after not only the interests of the people of Africa but also after British interests in extending commerce and trade.

I said that I would be brief. I have made five general suggestions. If the Government were to pass on three out of the five tonight, I should be extremely happy.

Photo of Mr Timothy Raison Mr Timothy Raison , Aylesbury 8:41 pm, 14th May 1991

I listened to the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Sir D. Steel) with interest, and he made a number of valid points, although I would quarrel with one or two of them. The right hon. Gentleman has a slightly false picture of our Government approaching the Government of Bangladesh about what help we can give. We do not sit idle and do nothing until a plea is made to us. If the practice is the same as it always was, and I am sure it is, we would certainly very rapidly have established communication with the Government of Bangladesh, but we would want to be sure of two things: first, that whatever we gave was needed and, secondly, that there was respect for the fundamental principle that, in aid programmes of any kind, we ask the Government concerned what they want rather than simply go in, override them and tell them what they will get. I am sure that that is an absolutely sound principle.

I also believe that the right hon. Gentleman ought to think a little more carefully about the extent of our aid programme. He has said that we should cover all the former British colonies; and goodness knows there are many of them, and many of them are facing very great difficulties. On top of that, he says, we should have major interests in former Portuguese colonies and in south America. But one of the troubles with our aid programme is that it is far too thinly spread; we cover far too many countries already. Rather than look for new areas in which to provide help, we should concentrate harder on providing more help in depth in those areas that we know really well and where we have really strong obligations and historical connections.

However, I do not want to carp at the general tenor of what the right hon. Gentleman had to say. I am sure that the whole House agrees that the extent of the crises in these three areas results in the bleakest picture that any of us who have followed this area over the years have ever known. The sheer awfulness of what has happened almost defies words. That is true, above all, in Africa. I believe that it is there that the gravest situations of all are to be found.

Apart from the intrinsic horror of what is happening, there is a feeling of lost confidence in the aid process, a feeling that aid cannot tackle these things. I do not think that the problem is one of compassion fatigue, although there may be signs of that here and there. I think that there is a kind of despair about what can be done to put these matters right or to prevent these crises.

The despair is triggered off by the fact that so many of the great disasters of the world are caused not just by natural events but by deep political difficulties. It is this that is making it so hard to tackle the things that have to be tackled. It is these political problems, as we see in the middle east and in Africa, that it seems to be beyond the scope of the aid community to solve. There is no need for me to list them, but they include the Kurdish problem, the Ethiopian problem, Somalia, Sudan, Liberia, Malawi, Mozambique, and so on. They are all suffering from profound political problems, which are causing the troubles they have to face.

The question is, what can we do about it? I have to say frankly that the simple remedy of doubling the aid programme will not solve these problems. I believe, indeed, that it would be very difficult to absorb a rapid doubling of the aid programme, certainly in terms of finding worthwhile projects. That is one of the strange things about this field—that, although the needs are so great, it is very difficult to find worthwhile projects to carry out.

It is fair to make the point that Bangladesh, of all countries, has received enormous quantities of aid in the post-war years. It has been one of the foremost recipients of aid, not only from the United Kingdom, although we have provided a lot, but from many other areas. Bangladesh still faces enormous problems, which have culminated in the recent tragedy. Sudan too has been a very substantial aid recipient until recently, when it became virtually impossible to provide it with aid because of the present hazards in that country.

We have to recognise that, as the critics of aid have pointed out, aid has often been used to prop up incompetent or corrupt regimes. It has not been able to achieve its objectives precisely for that reason. We also have to recognise that aid can even sustain a civil war rather than bring peace. There is a kind of minimum level of activity which is sutained by aid coming into a country, and this can occasionally stop people getting to grips with their problems and allow civil war to continue. Arguably, perhaps, that has been true of Ethiopia, and it is possible that it might happen in Iraq.

Photo of Mrs Maria Fyfe Mrs Maria Fyfe , Glasgow Maryhill

I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman will consider rather more carefully the tenor of his remarks in the past few minutes, because they not only encourage the Government to turn away from increasing the amount of aid given but discourage individuals who are giving generously to various aid programmes in Britain from feeling that they should continue. His remarks might encourage people to believe that there is no point in giving any money to anybody.

Photo of Mr Timothy Raison Mr Timothy Raison , Aylesbury

I quite understand why the hon. Lady has said that, but I have constructed my speech to point out what I believe to be very genuine difficulties. I do not think that any of the things that I have said is untrue, and I can assure her that I have thought about them a great deal. But there are also some positive things that I want to say, so perhaps she will listen to them and recognise them.

The fundamental question which I think this debate has exposed is whether we need a change of strategy. In this respect, the speech of my right hon. Friend the Minister was very interesting, and it is worth while considering what she was telling us. Perhaps the point that came over is that we have to think about the role of relief in the aid process as a whole. When I was Minister for Overseas Development, it was felt that relief was a kind of unpleasant necessity that was occasionally pushed on us, and that the whole thrust of ODA and development was long-term development. That was what the money was collected for, and the relief activities were something that had to be dealt with on the side.

Of course, the logic of that is absolutely impeccable. Nobody can deny that, if long-term development can be carried out, there is a chance of averting the disasters that lead to the clamour for short-term relief. That philosophy was absolutely right.

However, what we have to think about now—this is partly what my right hon. Friend was talking about—is whether, in our aid strategy, in planning the organisation of ODA and the way the budget is allocated and so on, we should not recognise that disasters play a bigger part than any of us had expected, and that there must be some change in the strategy and the way in which the Department is organised to have regard to that. That is one of the crucial questions that has cropped up today.

In a way, the wheel has gone full circle. I can take the example of Oxfam. When Oxfam began, it was the Oxford Committee for Famine Relief, set up for the specific purpose of dealing with disasters. Over the years, Oxfam tried to move away from that concept and towards a very strong emphasis on long-term development; as I say, I think that the Government moved in parallel with it. But, like the Government, Oxfam has been forced back on to disaster relief. Since that is so, and since these ghastly disasters do happen whatever we might wish, my right hon. Friend is right to say that we must look at our capacity for dealing with these things.

It may also be said that, although disaster relief is not what we want to be about—it is a cruel necessity—in some ways it is an easier operation to run than long-term development. The record of a lot of long-term development which has been carried out with good intentions by dedicated and skilled people has, nevertheless, been deeply disappointing. The change has not been brought about in the third world that one might have expected from the quantity of resources that have gone into it. That is because the development process is itself a difficult one, and is complicated by political factors.

At least when one is dealing with disaster and famine relief, clear targets can be established. People know what they are trying to do and what they have to deliver and where, and they can get on with the job in a dynamic way. The ODA's record in that area has been excellent. The handling by the disaster unit has always been of high quality.

It may well be that my right hon. Friend is right—I suspect she is—when she says that perhaps we have to enlarge that side. It has already been enlarged, but perhaps that part of the operation has to be increased. It is quite on the cards that there needs to be a shift in the balance within the aid programme from the longer-term work towards the shorter-term work. I think that that applies also to other organisations around the world which are working in that area.

That means that we must carefully examine our ability to cope with disasters. In a way, we have made quite a good job of it. Sometimes, we have been late in the field, but overall our record has been good. But all of us, including the United Nations agencies, the EC and so on, need to do a lot of rethinking.

The response of the EC seems not to have been discreditable. I am glad that, just a few days ago, it made the decision to dispatch, I think, an extra 500,000 tonnes of food aid. That is welcome and has not received enough publicity, but we must look at the mechanisms for delivering disaster relief.

However—here I come back to what I have already said—that does not mean that development ceases to be a vital part of what we have to do. We can see in parts of the world, particularly in Asia, that great gains have been achieved by development. Many of the Asian economies, in contradistinction to the African economies, are getting on the move.

India, the vastest of all the aid recipients, is showing signs of strength which has gradually been built up. In particular, there are certain forms of aid where one can feel confident of the value of what is being done. I am a firm believer in educational aid and training aid, bringing people here for training or sending our people out to the receiving country. The record of the ODA and the British Council in that area has been good.

Evidently, population aid has to be of great importance. After all, it is the characteristic of the sub-Saharan countries that they have often 3 or even 4 per cent. population increase rates. Above all, there has been great value in the emphasis of the past five or six years on supporting those countries which are prepared to take sensible economic strategies on board and which really have been prepared to take part in a policy dialogue to see that the old ways are not good enough.

The long-term development work is vital. We are in some ways getting a clearer idea of how to bring that about effectively, certainly in the basic economic field. Our great needs are to press on doing all that we possibly can to deal with the political and military obstacles to development which are causing so much cruelty and grief. One profoundly hopes that the talks that are going on about the horn of Africa will lead to success. One profoundly hopes that, in Iraq, we shall not find ourselves with a prolonged civil war breaking out.

All I can say is that I believe that, in tabling their motion this evening, the Opposition have to a great extent missed the point. I do not think that their intentions are wrong, although no doubt they are pretty political, but we must look afresh at all our approaches to this difficult and important area.

Photo of Tom Clarke Tom Clarke Shadow Minister (Disability) 8:54 pm, 14th May 1991

There has been an air of unreality about this debate. Apart from my right hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) and my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd), the House has not addressed itself to the enormous problem that exists out there—or perhaps not so much "out there", as modern technology means that our people can see what is going on, and I do not believe that they will feel that we have had the kind of considered and urgent response to the problems of the third world that they are seeing in their living rooms night after night.

The simple truth is that Bangladesh is being struck by a cyclone of indifference every day of its life—as are Africa, Asia and Latin America. We have not begun to address the real problems that exist there in the way that those problems invite.

I do not wish to be uncivil to the Minister of Overseas Development, as she may well be fighting the Treasury in the way that her predecessor attempted to do—we shall try to give her some encouragement today—but would it not have been more honest for the Prime Minister and his various Ministers to acknowledge that, due to the recession which they have largely been responsible for creating, what we have been doing has been woefully inadequate, given the problems of the third world? In no way have we even begun to address the real problems of long-term development which are so crucial if the problems are to be met. It is not enough to mount fire brigade operations when our consciences are pricked and to ignore what is going on for most of the time.

The right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Sir D. Steel), the former leader of the Liberal party, might think that I am being deliberately provocative when I say in the second aid debate that we have had this year that I am almost beginning to despair of the views that he is now expressing. When he calls for a consensus on these vital matters, does he really think that we should pretend that we have views that we do not have? Does he really think that there is a consensus even between the hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross (Sir N. Fairbairn) and the Minister?

Tonight, the Minister has expressed views which are a complete repudiation of the speech that the hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross gave to the Tory conference at Perth this week. I cannot believe that even the hon. and learned Gentleman, for whom some of us have a sneaking personal respect, would abandon common humanity to enjoy a few transient moments of tabloid fame.

Photo of Mr David Steel Mr David Steel , Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale

I hope that the hon. Member is not going to drag me into this private fight. The consensus that I was seeking was on achieving the UN aid programme, and I know that he will agree with me about that.

Photo of Tom Clarke Tom Clarke Shadow Minister (Disability)

I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman made that clear, and that I gave him the opportunity. In his speech he appeared to be asking for a consensus on wider issues and it has to be said that that consensus simply does not exist. It does not befit an Opposition to pretend that it does, in view of the fact that the problems that we are witnessing are not being tackled with the urgency that we believe is vital.

The hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross did a great disservice to many people in his constituency, including elderly ladies who work for Oxfam, Christian Aid and the rest, and who ought not to be convinced that their efforts are in vain. I therefore regret his speech, but the House cannot ignore what he said because the real influence upon the Government's shameful policies in these matters may well be reflected in the sort of views that he expressed.

Photo of Sir Nicholas Fairbairn Sir Nicholas Fairbairn , Perth and Kinross

Will the hon. Gentleman tell me what views I expressed?

Photo of Tom Clarke Tom Clarke Shadow Minister (Disability)

It is not for me to remind the hon. and learned Gentleman of the speech that he made—from time to time, his recollection may be somewhat faded—but if he has any doubts, I refer him to the House of Commons Library and to last Friday's Daily Record. Then he might see the comments that he made, although I do not wish to dwell upon them because they are unrepresentative of the humanity that I believe the people of Scotland feel. Nevertheless, the hon. and learned Gentleman might have done a service to this debate. He has influenced people to believe that the Government are not giving the leadership that we so urgently require.

Frankly, it is not good enough for the Minister for Overseas Development or her colleagues in government to call for leadership within the United Nations when they are not giving leadership here in the United Kingdom.

Photo of Mrs Lynda Chalker Mrs Lynda Chalker , Wallasey

What utter nonsense.

Photo of Tom Clarke Tom Clarke Shadow Minister (Disability)

Despite her sedentary interruptions, the right hon. Lady has totally failed to explain why the Government have failed to honour their commitment to the target of 0·7 per cent. of gross national product. I am willing to give way to allow her the opportunity to tell us whether that is the Government's commitment. Do they still believe in it? On Thursday, the Prime Minister, no less, told the House: We have a better record than almost anyone in the world and we can justly be proud of that record."—[Official Report, 9 May 1991; Vol. 190 c. 822.] The Prime Minister must know that that is absolute nonsense and is not justified by any facts. The Prime Minister need not go any further than our own Library to check facts.

What do we find when we check on our commitment to 0·7 per cent. GNP? Far from the Prime Minister being right in saying that we lead the world, we find that we are behind Denmark, which has achieved 0·94 per cent, France with 0·78 per cent., the Netherlands with 0·94 per cent., Norway with 1·04 per cent. and Sweden with 0·97 per cent. We are even behind countries which have not achieved the figure but are nevertheless doing better than we are—countries such as Australia, Belgium, Canada, Italy, Germany and Japan.

The Government are not doing any service to the people of Britain or to the problems by pretending that they are doing better than they are. If the Government have financial and fiscal problems, they ought to tell us that that is the real reason. They should not try to make a virtue of lethargy, but that seems to me to be the case. The problems that we are debating simply will not go away if that is the Government's approach. Apart from the three areas of crisis that the House has debated today, we have witnessed a decade of economic disaster for sub-Saharan Africa, an extremely unhappy decade for the debt-ridden countries of Latin America. Yet we have also witnessed the fact that the political will on our part to deal with those problems and to offer real leadership to other nations within the UN does not seem to exist. We are therefore entitled to call for a Government who will give these issues real focus and leadership.

Photo of Tom Clarke Tom Clarke Shadow Minister (Disability)

I shall not give way. There are many more arguments that Opposition Members would like to make. It would be fine to continue the debate about taxation. The Minister seemed to give the impression that she would even prefer a cut in taxation to an increase in the Government's contribution to overseas aid. Perhaps she should make her position clear in her reply. It is not enough for supporters of the Government, including the Prime Minister, to pretend that we are doing superbly when manifestly that is not the case, and when a Back Bencher, the hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross, gives a whole conference the impression that he thinks that we are doing too much and, sadly, gets applause for his views. It is profoundly obscene for us to witness poverty, deprivation, squalor and death in the third world without feeling angry. As the debate continues, I hope that that anger will be articulated and will intensify.

Several Hon. Members:


Photo of Mr Paul Dean Mr Paul Dean , Woodspring

Order. The Front Bench spokesmen wish to reply to the debate at 20 minutes to 10. If hon. Members on both sides are very brief, it should be possible to call most, if not all, of them.

Photo of Sir Nicholas Fairbairn Sir Nicholas Fairbairn , Perth and Kinross 9:05 pm, 14th May 1991

The words of the hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) were clearly prepared to distort and disguise the important matters which I raised in Perth last week. There is no difference between myself and my right hon. Friend the Minister. The only difference is that last week she spoke second and I spoke first, whereas this evening she spoke first and I am speaking second.

During the time that the hon. Gentleman spoke, the population of the earth increased by five times the entire population of the city of Perth. Such a city is not built in two minutes, every two minutes. If we are talking about disasters, there may be disasters of cyclone or war, but the disaster which happens every day, every hour and every minute is the desperate increase in the population of the world. That is what creates the other disasters.

I am ashamed that the hon. Gentleman, having read a totally misinformed report in the Daily Record, using words which I did not use, should suggest that I am impiteous when a disaster occurs. If a person falls, or if a tragedy occurs, whether in Bangladesh, Somalia or anywhere else, it is natural for all of us to help. May I say to the hon. Gentleman, to the House and, I hope, to a listening world, that it is even more impiteous that we do nothing about the disaster of the increase of the world population, whom we cannot feed or educate and who are the result of unintended pregnancies.

I set up birth control agencies in Edinburgh because in my private practice I saw the tragedy of unintended pregnancy. The world is a tragedy of unintended pregnancy. The people who were washed away in the ghastliness of the Bangladesh cyclone were replaced last week. The population is on the increase again. What is the hon. Member for Monklands, West going to do about that? What will he do about the fact that the populations of Somalia and Ethiopia—thanks to Band Aid, or no thanks to Band Aid—are increasing on an exponential curve? What will the hon. Gentleman do about that? What is his lot going to do about it? What is Geldof going to do about it?

Photo of Sir Nicholas Fairbairn Sir Nicholas Fairbairn , Perth and Kinross

I will not give way.

What will the hon. Gentleman do? The answer is nothing, except express distress and complain that the Government are not doing enough. Then he will wait for the next plane or overloaded train in Somalia or Bangladesh, or wherever, to crash, and he will say again that the Government are not doing enough. In my opinion, my right hon. Friend the Minister for Overseas Development is one of the most responsible members of the Government. The way in which she has addressed such disasters as we are discussing has been extremely responsible, and the Government's response has been quite excellent in scale and direction.

Photo of Sir Nicholas Fairbairn Sir Nicholas Fairbairn , Perth and Kinross

No. The hon. Gentleman cannot just wander round to the Front Bench for the purpose of getting me to give way. Someone wrote to me saying, "I wish his father had used a condom." But I did not use the word "condom" in my speech.

The Government have been very responsible in the face of these disasters, but the great disaster that faces us all is the fact that the population of the earth is expanding out of control. Other disasters will occur increasingly until we address that basic fact. It is a matter to which we should be giving much more attention. I shall say so again and again, however much it offends Opposition Members, until we address the distress of unintended pregnancies in the first, second or third world, or any other world. That will be the answer to the tragedy of mankind. What is now the cause of that tragedy will continue to be the cause. There is no point in asking the Government occasionally to send a fire engine if the children are not prevented from playing with fire.

Photo of John McFall John McFall , Dumbarton 9:12 pm, 14th May 1991

This motion is about famine, flood and disaster. The concern of the hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross (Sir N. Fairbairn) may be gauged from the fact that he made no mention of the people who are currently suffering. That is what we are interested in today. My hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) has said that poverty and conflict are at the root of the problems. Indeed they are.

Before the Gulf war began, I said that winning the peace would be harder than winning the war. Consider the billions upon billions of pounds that were spent on winning that war. We spent at least £2,000 milllion in the United Kingdom. What have we spent on winning the peace? We have spent £21 million on aid for the Iraqi Kurdish refugees and given £12 million to the EC. We are one of the smallest contributors in the entire EC. The Minister is shaking her head. Even if the figure were doubled, it would not compare with the amount of money that was spent instantly for the purpose of winning the war. One is forced to deduce that the Government are concerned less about winning the peace than they were about winning the war.

What is happening today? Arms sales are progressing apace. Every Thursday, the Joint Intelligence Committee of the Cabinet considers, among other things, the arms sales. But those sales continue. This week, the New York Times said that President Bush is strangely silent about the need to curb the sale of conventional arms to the middle east. The new weapons sent to the middle east by the United States in this year alone are worth over $33 billion. Eight of the 15 former top importing third-world countries are in the middle east. Another disaster, another Saddam, and we will have our eyes shut. Where is the new world order we were talking about? Was it merely the United Nations with a respray, which is now showing the old rust? We need not so much a new world order as a new economic order. That is the root of the problem.

We went to the Gulf to defend our interests. As a tragic Kurdish refugee said in the mountains, "The Kuwaitis had oil and they were saved; the Kurds had no oil, so we were annihilated." If we say that we care about human beings—whether Kurds, Iraqis or Bangladeshis—we should treat them all the same, but we have not done so. The conclusions from the Gulf war are that it was a war about resources. We shall face the same problem time and time again, if we continue to keep our eyes shut, as we have done until now.

What about Iraq? We have heard nothing about the Shi'ites and we should be doing even more for the Kurds. But what about the innocent Iraqi people whose infrastructure was demolished in Iraq? We have not heard about them. We were told about smart bombs in Iraq—the reality behind smart bombs is that they bomb now and kill later. Every day, innocent Iraqi people are suffering from bad health and from lack of water and electricity resources because we have bombed their country. We have destroyed their infrastructure and we are not lifting a finger to help them.

I mentioned poverty. In the 1960s, President Reagan said, they fought a war against poverty and lost. I believe that it is individuals such as President Reagan and our former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) who have put us in our current position. They had a blinkered vision of the third world and they believed that the market would solve the problems. We know that the market does not solve them in developed countries, let alone in the third world.

It is no accident that the world now faces a litany of disasters. All over the world, the seeds of poverty are bearing a bitter harvest. I ask the Minister for Overseas Development, what will she do about that?

A month or so ago, I read in The Daily Telegraph about Bill Deedes, a high Tory by any measure. He went to the Sudan and, in moving words, he said that the animals die first, the children die next and then the adults take their turn to die. Twenty-seven million people are today facing that reality. During the Gulf war, we made that point to the Government, but the Press Gallery was empty so there was little response in the newspapers the next day. Twenty-seven million people are dying. What is happening in Africa today? Incomes are falling by 25 per cent., commodity prices have fallen by 30 per cent., per capita spending on health is down by 50 per cent. and spending on education is down by 25 per cent.

The right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Sir D. Steel) mentioned Peru, which is undergoing a cholera epidemic. That epidemic could be prevented if money was used not to service debts, but to help the people. It is an obscenity that every United Kingdom citizen pays, if I remember correctly, more than £6 a week to the banks for third-world debts, to help commercial interests such as NatWest and other groups that recklessly granted loans in the 1970s. Every individual has to pay the price today, while the banks are let off. That is an obscenity, given the fact that millions and millions of people are suffering in the world.

I want a Government commitment that at the Group of Seven meeting in July they will declare an assault on poverty. The World bank has already said that a concerted effort will take 400 million people out of poverty by the year 2000. The Archbishop of Canterbury says that the first priority in his reign will be an attack on poverty. I want the Minister to convey that to the Prime Minister, and put the rhetoric into action.

An international disaster relief agency is essential. There are, I know, plans for that at the moment. In addition, however, we need a humanitarian support operation. We face today the cocktail of mass hunger. That is the recipe that lies ahead of us. The shades of 1974—the last food disaster—are with us.

The point of tonight's debate is that the key to the problem is famine prevention. Until that issue transcends political differences, we shall get nowhere. Development is the best antidote to famine. The Government have made no commitment to that. Their record is abysmal. Given that their record is so abysmal, all that we can do is to vote against their amendment.

Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord , Suffolk Central 9:19 pm, 14th May 1991

It is interesting to follow the hon. Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall). He told us about all the problems that face the world, many of which we would all agree about, but then he went on to blame the Government for most of them, or for not doing all that they should. That is the wrong impression to give. I believe that our Government have done as much as they possibly could in the circumstances.

I therefore congratulate my right hon. Friend the Minister for Overseas Development on her caring, purposeful and, I believer, practical approach to the problems that we face. I, as much as anybody, would like the United Nations target to be reached. I am sure that my right hon. Friend agrees with me about that and that she will do all that she can to enable that target to be reached as soon as possible.

Aid is always a highly emotional matter. In a way, that is no bad thing. Emotion can be the driving force for action. In that sense, it can help. Emotion, however, is no substitute for practical help, either in emergencies or in the longer term. Enormous amounts of money are constantly being poured into the third world—and rightly so—by Governments, voluntary organisations and other organisations such as Band Aid, to which reference has already been made. Furthermore, there have been the efforts of people such as Bob Geldof, but still we see the pitiful sights on our television screens, and people are asked to give more and more.

Why are such huge amounts of money still needed with such sad regularity? There are two basic reasons—first, the forces of nature, and secondly, the internal structures of the countries concerned. We can do nothing about natural forces—cyclones, hurricanes, tornadoes, drought and so on. We may hate to admit it when we can put men on the moon and fly around the world in a matter of hours, but the truth is that some forces are still greater than man can cope with, and always will be.

To counteract the worst effects of disasters and to make peaceful progress within third-world countries, it is essential to have internal structures which will allow that to happen. Sometimes as a country we are made to feel very guilty about the problems in Africa. When colonial powers were involved in that continent there were no wars. People lived in peace. When colonial powers were in Africa, it was self-sufficient. People were not hungry.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn , Islington North

Thousands were killed in colonial wars.

Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord , Suffolk Central

Now, Africa takes two thirds of the world's aid; then, it was self-sufficient. I do not want to turn the clock back to those days, but I do not believe that we as a nation should feel guilty about the fact that then Africa was self-sufficient, whereas now it takes such a huge amount of the world's aid. More importantly, it suggests that, in order to combat famine and disease and to cope when disaster strikes, we must have peace, stability and a workable infrastructure of some sort.

What can we do? How can we help? We can certainly give aid in the short term. We can also involve ourselves in long-term aid. We are doing that. We know, however, that the problems will return unless some fundamental changes are made to the way that many third-world countries run their affairs. Many hon. Members referred to the same point. Most of them were on this side of the House, but the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) mentioned it, too. We respect the sovereignty of all nations. We are told that we cannot interfere in the internal affairs of other countries. That being so, how can we help if rulers will not let us help, and if corruption is rife? How can we help when a civil war is in progress? It cannot be done.

The hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) said that Africa needed a famine early warning system. food stores and a proper transport system. She suggested that others, perhaps the United Nations, should be undertaking such work. I agree that those tasks should be undertaken, but if we are not careful, by doing them we shall take over the running of the countries concerned, which we are not allowed to do.

While we cannot run the affairs of other countries, respecting their sovereignty often happens at the expense of the people of those countries. A way must be found to make the United Nations more dynamic. At the time of the Gulf war, even when we anticipated that it would be a horrific problem, we hoped that out of it would come a United Nations with more moral strength and determination, perhaps being willing to intervene on occasions when in the past it has not felt strong enough to do so. I urge my right hon. Friend to press her Government and United Nations colleagues to try to achieve intervention when that is in the best interests of the nations that we are trying to help, for without co-operation no amount of aid will help.

The basis difference between the two sides of the House is that Opposition Members seem to believe that by throwing money at the problems that we are debating, they will be solved. My hon. Friends and I disagree with that philosophy. I agree that more aid should be given, but until that aid is accompanied by co-operation from the countries that we are trying to help, disasters will continue to recur and, sadly, we shall have debates of this kind for many years to come.

Photo of Mrs Maria Fyfe Mrs Maria Fyfe , Glasgow Maryhill 9:27 pm, 14th May 1991

It was clear during the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross (Sir N. Fairbairn) that the Minister was becoming more and more embarrassed by his remarks, but Government policy is in reality much closer to the views of that hon. and learned Gentleman than one might think.

Consider, for example the position of Kurdish refugees in Britain today, of whom there are about 800. The British Government have the nerve to take to task the perfomance of the nations surrounding Iraq in endeavouring to cope with over 2 million refugees, when we in Britain spend money not on trying to help Kurdish refugees—to permit them to have political asylum and stay here—but on sending them back to face whatever horrors may be inflicted on them. The Home Office sought and obtained an extra £12 million from the Treasury to achieve a faster turnround of people who face death on their return to Iraq.

The Minister said that war was part of the problem, and that is true. Why then do the Government permit the Birmingham arms fair to go ahead? Why are they not taking a closer look at the affairs of countries to which Britain sells arms? We should be making greater efforts on that front.

The Minister said that giving 0·7 per cent. of our GNP in aid would not be achievable unless the economy improved. But 0·7 per cent. is a proportion, not a sum of money. We want that proportion to be achieved regardless of the performance of the economy. As the economy improves under a Labour Government, 0·7 per cent. will be a vastly increased sum going to world aid.

The hon. Member for Suffolk, Central (Mr. Lord) talked a lot of nonsense about the good old days of imperialism, when there were no wars and the countries now needing aid were self-sufficient. Has he never heard the expression "economic imperialism"? One does not have to be in full control of countries to dictate what goes on in them.

As I have time to take only one example, I shall cite that of Sierra Leone, which used to be fully self-sufficient in growing rice for its people and preserving their lives. That country cannot be held responsible for the fact that Liberia's civil war is spilling over into Sierra Leone. We have a treaty with Sierra Leone, but it is receiving no aid. In the meantime, far from growing its own rice, it must import every grain from the United States and pay massive debts to the International Monetary Fund and bankers. It is suffering from having built up massive debts and interest rates.

Countries such as Sierra Leone, Nicaragua, El Salvador and many others whose populations are in desperate poverty are compelled by rich western countries to run their economies in a way that does not help their people but simply provides more profit for the rich countries of the world. The Government must face up to that real issue, which a Labour Government will address, and talk about solving it. To talk about contraception in that context is obscene nonsense.

Photo of Alistair Burt Alistair Burt , Bury North 9:31 pm, 14th May 1991

The House can always tell when an hon. Member gets uncomfortably close to the truth, especially if he or she expresses views that contain a grain of truth. People laugh nervously and then scatter and hide behind the parapets.

I should like to read the following passage: The population problem in Bangladesh is awesome. The problem of people has been defined: too many, too close, too young and too late … there are too many women starting child-bearing too early, before they are fully grown. They are under-nourished and have too many babies too close together, which not only undermines their own health, but also that of their babies. Fifty per cent. of babies born in Bangladesh are below normal birth weight and almost all mothers are anaemic. More than ninety per cent. are born at home, and the majority delivered by untrained attendants; resulting frequently in tetanus for mother or child, which is almost invariably fatal. This is part of the vicious cycle faced by females, starting when they are born, that has to be broken. Those are not the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Perth and Kinross (Sir N. Fairbairn) or a statement from the Government. They come from Fiona Duby, who is a health worker on an NGO project in Bangladesh, and they appeared in the British Overseas Aid 1990 annual review.

We may not like the way our colleagues sometimes express things that happen to be true, but on over-population, but we laugh at them at our peril.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn , Islington North 9:33 pm, 14th May 1991

This debate could not be more timely. The most appalling disasters have occurred in Bangladesh, Kurdistan and Africa. There is no shortage of popular support for getting aid and help to those disaster areas.

However, I deplore the way in which journalists keep writing about donor and aid fatigue, because it is very damaging to non-governmental organisations that are doing their best to get aid quickly to those who need it most. Journalists could do more useful work by writing about the background to those disasters rather than speculating about donor fatigue.

The case of the Kurdish people has been raised in the House many times. Indeed, I have been highlighting their plight for many years. Clearly, they have the most desperate short-term needs for medicine, blankets, food and engineering help, just to survive. As we speak, children are dying on the mountains, and many people are dying of starvation in that region.

Unless a long-term political solution is found to the aspirations of the Kurdish people, the problem will return time and again. Sadam Hussein has always done deals with the Kurdish people when he is weak and has killed them when he is strong, as he did in 1988 at Halabja.

Emergency aid is desperately needed. The British Government could find more than £1 billion to fight the Gulf war, without any vote in the House to support their decision, so I find their niggles about small sums of money in an aid budget quite distasteful. If we were serious about conquering hunger, the world arms bill alone could do so. The question is whether there is the political will to do so.

The 1980 World bank report stated: present output of grain alone could supply every man, woman and child with more than 3,000 calories and 65 grammes of protein per day. Eliminating malnutrition would require redirecting only about 2 per cent. of the world's grain output. Those figures were relevant in 1980. Obviously, the exact figures have changed now, but clearly the world would be capable of feeding itself if wealth were properly distributed throughout the world. A recent World Food Programme report showed that 29 million people in 25 countries—mainly in Africa—were at risk of immediate death from starvation. Against that background, we must consider the economic relationship.

Some 100,000 people in Bangladesh have died as a result of the recent cyclone, and 10 million people are homeless. Polluted drinking water and various other problems will hit that country very quickly. Those problems will not go away and must be faced in the spirit that we live in one world and one planet. At present, instead of vast amounts of aid flowing from the richest to the poorest countries, the wealth flows the other way, as it has for every one of the past 200 years. The debt crisis affecting third-world countries at present means that, in real terms, they are subsidising the banking systems and commodity brokers of the north, at the expense of their own people. The closure of hospitals and health services in Mexico, Peru, Bolivia and other countries, insisted on by the World bank and the International Monetary Fund, is a major part of the problem.

We have a role to play in providing rapid emergency aid, and we must do so. We also have a role to play in providing programme aid to ensure that there is consistent, long-term economic and agricultural development in those countries. We also have a responsibility to ensure that the debt problems of third-world countries are solved. Those problems are best met by writing off debts, which prove an unbearable burden for those countries. We must also insist and ensure that the real prices of the commodities produced by third-world countries increase. In a basket of commodity prices, most countries now receive less in real terms than they did in 1950—more than 40 years ago.

Unless we address these problems, the basically economically based disasters—albeit some of them are environmentally based—will return to haunt us again and again. We must do something to write off the debts and restore a balance in the world's wealth, to ensure that the real wealth created goes to those who most desperately need it, not to finance the profligate consumption of the super-rich of western Europe and north America.

Photo of Mr Harry Barnes Mr Harry Barnes , North East Derbyshire 9:37 pm, 14th May 1991

I have time to raise just one item—British aid to the Kurds.

The generosity of the British people in assisting the Kurds has been considerable. It was reflected in the events of this weekend, but that was by no means the extent of the generosity, because we are now seven weeks into the problem faced by the Kurds.

As soon as the pictures came on to our television screens, people up and down this country got together in communities and villages and started to collect blankets, groundsheets, tents and the necessary supplies to be sent out to the Kurds. By 4 April, a group called British Aid for the Kurds had been established—a successor organisation to that which sent parcels to the British troops during the Gulf war. That was a straightforward exercise, because there were plenty of MOD aeroplanes flying to the Gulf, so supplies could be sent.

But there have been massive logistical problems in getting British aid to the Kurds. The ODA has not been able to respond to the work that has been done as it could have had the resources been available. That has nothing to do with shortcomings on the part of the people in the disaster unit, who have worked admirably in difficult circumstances. The problem is the vast shortfall in the resources provided for the ODA to handle crises.

There is a big unwritten story that the media have not got hold of—about how people responded as soon as the crisis was known, and how it has taken so long to get the goods out to Turkey, and especially to Iran. We have often had to depend on Iran Air to fly the goods out, and until recently it has had to pay landing charges at Heathrow. Indeed, I understand that Iran Air still has to pay landing charges if the flight is considered scheduled.

The case of British aid for the Kurds reveals the inadequacy of the ODA, and its inability to handle three massive crises at one time. Its procedure for handling what we may call normal passing disasters is to send two 707s with medical and other supplies and to buy goods in local markets to provide assistance in an area. That procedure is not capable of beginning to touch the problems in Bangladesh and the horn of Africa, or the problems of the Kurds. In short, the Government need to adjust their operations.

Photo of Mr George Foulkes Mr George Foulkes , Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley 9:42 pm, 14th May 1991

I am pleased that all the Members who wanted to contribute to this important debate have been able to do so—albeit rather briefly in the case of the last few speakers.

The hon. Member for Bury, North (Mr. Burt) asked us to bear in mind the important issue raised in a rather eccentric fashion by the hon. Member for Tayside, North. Hon. Members on both sides of the House are not unaware of the problems associated with population and development. There is an active all-party group on population and development chaired by the hon. Member for Devizes (Sir C. Morrison). I have not seen the hon. Member for Tayside, North attending its regular meetings.

Photo of Sir Nicholas Fairbairn Sir Nicholas Fairbairn , Perth and Kinross

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am not the Member for Tayside, North. I represent Perth and Kinross.

Photo of Mr George Foulkes Mr George Foulkes , Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley

I must apologise profoundly to the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker). I never thought that I would be able to insult him.

It is an unusual pleasure to be able to start by welcoming some of what the Minister has said. I welcome first what I interpret as the announcement of the establishment of a mobile emergency volunteer force with doctors, engineers and other experts available to be mobilised and sent immediately to help when disasters happen.

Secondly, I welcome the expansion of the disaster unit. A few weeks ago it consisted of only four people. After our private notice question on 3 May, the number rose to six. After the statement demanded by the Opposition on 8 May, there were nine people, and today it has been announced that the number is now 12. After a few more private notice questions and statements, and a few more debates initiated by the Opposition, perhaps we shall get a disaster unit big enough to cope with the scale of these disasters. The people in that unit do not stand idly by when there are no disasters—planning is an essential element in coping with disasters, and the unit will be planning for potential disasters of all kinds.

Much of what the Government have done over the past few months has been in response to pressure from the public, the media and, if I may say so, from the Opposition. I shall not disappoint the Minister by congratulating her on everything, however, for there is much more to be done. I intend to repeat some of the unanswered questions and deal with some of the Government's misinformation.

The aid budget is inadequate. It has been squeezed again and again as existing allocations have been used to help cope with disasters. We are only one and a half months into the financial year and already about three quarters of the contingency fund has been used. It is fairly certain that in the next 10 and a half months there will be more disasters to cope with. There are major demands on the programme from other parts of the world, and parts of the programme will inevitably be harmed if more and more is taken out of an already small budget to help in disaster areas.

The budget is already 11 per cent. down in real terms. The Prime Minister said that this country is generous, and the Minister for Overseas Development implied that the budget is increasing. That is untrue. The Minister's answers to questions from my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) show that the aid budget is on the way down. Trying to meet extra needs and demands from a shrinking budget clearly places great strain on other aspects of the aid budget.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley and the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Sir D. Steel) asked the Minister about extra funds. My hon. Friend quoted from The Guardian, and the Minister has said several times that she would be prepared to ask for more money. In a debate earlier this month I tried, as always, to be helpful. In reply the Minister said: I believe that more resources are necessary in these exceptional circumstances, but, however helpful he might think his comments are, the hon. Gentleman must leave to me the approaches that I have made, and continue to make, for the resources that I need to carry out my job efficiently."—[Official Report, 8 May 1991; Vol. 190, c. 741.] In her winding-up speech, will the Minister state clearly the results of her approaches? How much new money—not money from the contingency fund or from the overstretched aid budget—is there for the Kurds, for Bangladesh and for famine in Africa? We have tried to get a straight answer but we have not received one. We want a straight answer now.

Ministry of Defence charges were raised by hon. Members on 3 May, 8 May and in this debate. If the reason is not cost, why are the Government reluctant to mobilise the forces of the Ministry of Defence? Those forces have the experience and the will to carry out the task, and they have the equipment and personnel. Field Marshal Lord Bramall has said that they are ideally equipped for that task, but the Minister says that the ODA has to pay the extra costs.

The hon. Member for Beckenham (Sir P. Goodhart) quoted Hugh Hanning of the Fontwell group. Mr. Hanning has conducted much work on the matter. He has produced a pamphlet and written many articles and, as the hon. Member for Beckenham said, he clearly understands the issue. Hugh Hanning said that the United Kingdom is the only country whose Ministry of Defence does not deduct training costs from the charges that are made. Will the Minister make that absolutely clear, and will she approach the Ministry of Defence and the Treasury to make sure that the extra burden of training costs does not fall on the already overstretched ODA budget?

I am afraid that the Minister's strategy has be be described as diversionary tactics. One of my hon. Friends referred to it as scapegoatism. The Minister blamed the delay in mobilising forces and assistance in Bangladesh on the weather. One of my hon. Friends tried to intervene to suggest that the right hon. Lady might have been on holiday at the time and that that might have delayed the response. In the context of the famine in Africa, the right hon. Lady attacked bureaucracy in the European Community and the following week she had to apoligise to the Community because she was wrong.

Now the Minister is attacking the United Nations. She is saying, "It is not the fault of the British Government; responsibility lies with the United Nations." All the United Nations agencies are having to work with both hands tied behind their backs because of the collapse of the funding and assistance made available by the Government to the United Nations.

Several hon. Members, and especially the right hon. Member for Aylesbury (Sir. T. Raison), spoke about the despair that is felt in tackling some of the problems, given their magnitude. He was a Minister for Overseas Development, and he has discussed these issues before. Indeed, he has raised them again and again.

Most of the despair in most of the countries where there are disasters arises from the huge debt burden that most of them have to bear. There is not, as some Conservative Members fondly imagine, a huge transfer of resources from the rich countries to the poor. Given the payment of interest charges and the repayment of debt, there is a net transfer from the poor countries to the rich, despite all the aid that we give. There must be major debt forgiveness. Help must be given to the countries that are so poor.

We have a moral responsibility, and humanity should motivate us in this place as it motivates the British people outside. The British people are generous with their voluntary donations and the Government must match that generosity. The British people want a swift response, and the Government must give it. We want to see a response out of common hunanity, but we also want to see political stability and economic prosperity in the countries where disasters have struck. In that way, we shall have security and safety in working with countries that we know to be politically stable and economically prosperous. It is in our interests to help them, as well as in the interests of the poor and of the peoples who are threatened with debt in so many countries around the world.

Photo of Mrs Lynda Chalker Mrs Lynda Chalker , Wallasey 9:51 pm, 14th May 1991

We have had a good debate. It has been rumbustious at times, but it has revealed yet again the concern and anxiety that is felt on both sides of the House in response to a great issue. Our anxiety is fully shared by the British people. That was shown by the magnificent response on Sunday to the Simple Truth concert.

I shall try to respond to some of the comments that have been made in the debate, but before doing so I say that, as politicians, we must respond constructively and practically when dealing with the public purse. That response has been forthcoming, and in recent months £70 million has been provided for the Iraqis and £90 million for Africa. A starting sum for Bangladesh—I have always made it clear that it was for immediate relief—is the £6·5 million that has been announced so far.

There have been some interesting contributions to the debate. For the first time in history, I found myself agreeing with the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn). I agreed with what he said about journalists reporting the debate, and with his remarks about the need to resolve the situation of the Kurdish people.

I do not always quote The Guardian, but this evening I shall quote from the "Notebook" column: The British government's leadership in each of the current international relief operations—for the Kurds, Bangladesh and Africa—is indisputable. It has moved quickly, efficiently and generously to deliver the right kind of assistance to those who most need it in meaningful amounts. If the Opposition do not believe what they read in The Guardian today, I shall. Many fair-minded people share the view expressed in the column to which I have referred. That is why I have consistently paid tribute to my staff, to non-governmental organisations and to all others who have helped. Such remarks, however, will not discourage us from considering urgently what further improvements can be made to the way that we and the international community distribute aid.

Photo of Mrs Lynda Chalker Mrs Lynda Chalker , Wallasey

No, I shall not give way to the hon. Gentleman. I have only seven minutes to complete my speech before the House divides.

Photo of Mr Dale Campbell-Savours Mr Dale Campbell-Savours , Workington

The Minister has still not answered my question.

Photo of Mrs Lynda Chalker Mrs Lynda Chalker , Wallasey

I shall answer the hon. Gentleman if he will stop making a noise. I shall tell him where I was.

Photo of Mrs Lynda Chalker Mrs Lynda Chalker , Wallasey

I shall tell the hon. Gentleman where I was, if he will listen. On 27 March, I was in my office. On 28 March through to 4 April. I was ill, unfortunately. I kept in touch with my office by telephone and fax machine throughout that time. If the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) has not suffered the pain of a gallstone, he does not know what it is.

I referred earlier to our review. UN co-ordination is needed urgently. I was not criticising individual agencies, as the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) seemed to think: I was expressing my regret—I know that my view is shared by many other member countries—that, despite the excellent efforts of people "on the ground", we were not able to secure co-ordination with those at the top to bring together the available resources quickly. We are now working to solve that problem, as we have been doing for some time. It was last September, when I went to Jordan, that I realised that it was a problem. The review that we have set in train—which deals with how we should handle major disasters simultaneously—is going well, and I hope that before long I shall be able to inform the House of the outcome.

I have taken note of the many comments that have been made tonight by hon. Members on both sides of the House. I do not agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Sir T. Raison) that there has been a loss of confidence in the aid process as such; the current frustration is, I think, caused by the size of the problems that are developing, and the frequent inability of receiving Governments to work with donor Governments to resolve those problems. Things have improved in many of the countries concerned, for the simple reason that many more countries are now working away at the process of economic reform. It is interesting to note how much better they have done in terms of growth—as shown by the World bank's long-term report—when they have undertaken economic reform programmes.

I understand the deep concern about debt. Let me point out, however, that it was the present Prime Minister who took the lead as Chancellor, building on the debt cancellation initiative of my right hon. Friend the Member for Blaby (Mr. Lawson) in 1987. That is how we worked out the Trinidad terms. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister set out those terms imaginatively and generously. They called for the cancellation of two thirds of eligible official bilateral debt, and for the repayment of the balance over 25 years. The Trinidad terms are a British initiative, which has been welcomed by donors and debtors alike. Our aim is for them to be accepted by the G7 summit that will be held in London in July, and we are working towards that.

The question of money is important. The hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes), alas, was not listening to what I said so carefully in my opening speech, because he was talking to his hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley. I said that the Government would continue to look sympathetically at the resources available to the ODA, so that Britain could continue to play its full part in the international relief effort to help alleviate the terrible suffering in Africa, and to assist the people of Bangladesh to reconstruct their lives.

There is no dispute about the fact that the aid budget was cut nearly a decade ago as part of the process of getting total public expenditure under control. It has, however, increased in real terms in the past three years. New money has been made available: that is my straight answer. Already this year, £30 million from the Treasury has been added to the aid budget.

Let me also say to the hon. Gentleman—as I have said before—that I am engaged in discussions. I am not in a position to give him answers and, in any event, those answers must be answers to the very necessary case that we make. I believe, however, that MOD costs are entirely proper. My understanding with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence about the training value of the relief operations will be taken into account in the amount charged to the ODA.

I commend the Government's amendment, and ask the House to reject the Opposition motion.

Question put, That the original words stand part of the Question:—

The House divided: Ayes 188, Noes 292.

Division No. 143][9.59 pm
Abbott, Ms DianeBoateng, Paul
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley, N.)Boyes, Roland
Allen, GrahamBray, Dr Jeremy
Alton, DavidBrown, Gordon (D'mline E)
Archer, Rt Hon PeterBrown, Nicholas (Newcastle E)
Armstrong, HilaryBrown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith)
Ashdown, Rt Hon PaddyBuckley, George J.
Ashley, Rt Hon JackCaborn, Richard
Ashton, JoeCallaghan, Jim
Banks, Tony (Newham NW)Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley)
Barnes, Mrs Rosie (Greenwich)Campbell-Savours, D. N.
Barron, KevinCarlile, Alex (Mont'g)
Battle, JohnCarr, Michael
Beckett, MargaretCartwright, John
Beith, A. J.Clark, Dr David (S Shields)
Bell, StuartClarke, Tom (Monklands W)
Benn, Rt Hon TonyClwyd, Mrs Ann
Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish)Cohen, Harry
Bermingham, GeraldCook, Robin (Livingston)
Blair, TonyCorbett, Robin
Blunkett, DavidCorbyn, Jeremy
Cousins, JimMcKelvey, William
Cryer, BobMcLeish, Henry
Cummings, JohnMcMaster, Gordon
Cunliffe, LawrenceMcNamara, Kevin
Dalyell, TamMcWilliam, John
Darling, AlistairMadden, Max
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)Mahon, Mrs Alice
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l)Marek, Dr John
Dewar, DonaldMarshall, David (Shettleston)
Dixon, DonMartin, Michael J. (Springburn)
Dobson, FrankMartlew, Eric
Doran, FrankMaxton, John
Duffy, A. E. P.Meacher, Michael
Dunnachie, JimmyMichie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs GwynethMichie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute)
Eadie, AlexanderMorley, Elliot
Eastham, KenMorris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)
Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray)Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
Fatchett, DerekMowlam, Marjorie
Fearn, RonaldMullin, Chris
Flannery, MartinNellist, Dave
Flynn, PaulOakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Foot, Rt Hon MichaelO'Brien, William
Foster, DerekPatchett, Terry
Foulkes, GeorgePendry, Tom
Fraser, JohnPike, Peter L.
Fyfe, MariaPowell, Ray (Ogmore)
Galbraith, SamPrescott, John
Galloway, GeorgePrimarolo, Dawn
Garrett, John (Norwich South)Radice, Giles
Garrett, Ted (Wallsend)Randall, Stuart
George, BruceRedmond, Martin
Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr JohnRees, Rt Hon Merlyn
Godman, Dr Norman A.Reid, Dr John
Golding, Mrs LlinRichardson, Jo
Gordon, MildredRobertson, George
Gould, BryanRobinson, Geoffrey
Graham, ThomasRogers, Allan
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)Rooker, Jeff
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)Rooney, Terence
Grocott, BruceRoss, Ernie (Dundee W)
Hardy, PeterRuddock, Joan
Harman, Ms HarrietSalmond, Alex
Haynes, FrankSheerman, Barry
Heal, Mrs SylviaSheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Henderson, DougShore, Rt Hon Peter
Hinchliffe, DavidShort, Clare
Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)Sillars, Jim
Home Robertson, JohnSkinner, Dennis
Hood, JimmySmith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Howell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath)Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)
Howells, GeraintSmith, Rt Hon J. (Monk'ds E)
Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd)Soley, Clive
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)Spearing, Nigel
Hughes, Simon (Southwark)Steel, Rt Hon Sir David
Illsley, EricSteinberg, Gerry
Ingram, AdamStraw, Jack
Janner, GrevilleTaylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Jones, Ieuan (Ynys Môn)Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Kaufman, Rt Hon GeraldThompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
Kennedy, CharlesVaz, Keith
Kinnock, Rt Hon NeilWalley, Joan
Kirkwood, ArchyWardell, Gareth (Gower)
Lamond, JamesWelsh, Andrew (Angus E)
Leighton, RonWigley, Dafydd
Lestor, Joan (Eccles)Wilson, Brian
Lewis, TerryWinnick, David
Livingstone, KenWise, Mrs Audrey
Lofthouse, GeoffreyWorthington, Tony
Loyden, EddieWray, Jimmy
McAllion, John
McCartney, IanTellers for the Ayes:
Macdonald, Calum A.Mr. Thomas McAvoy and Mr. Allen McKay.
McFall, John
Adley, RobertAmess, David
Aitken, JonathanAmos, Alan
Alexander, RichardArbuthnot, James
Amery, Rt Hon JulianArnold, Jacques (Gravesham)
Aspinwall, JackFranks, Cecil
Atkins, RobertFreeman, Roger
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley)French, Douglas
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)Fry, Peter
Baldry, TonyGardiner, Sir George
Batiste, SpencerGill, Christopher
Beaumont-Dark, AnthonyGilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian
Bendall, VivianGlyn, Dr Sir Alan
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)Goodhart, Sir Philip
Benyon, W.Goodlad, Alastair
Bevan, David GilroyGoodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
Biffen, Rt Hon JohnGorman, Mrs Teresa
Blackburn, Dr John G.Gorst, John
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir PeterGrant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW)
Body, Sir RichardGreenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Bonsor, Sir NicholasGregory, Conal
Boscawen, Hon RobertGriffiths, Sir Eldon (Bury St E')
Boswell, TimGriffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)
Bottomley, PeterGround, Patrick
Bottomley, Mrs VirginiaGrylls, Michael
Bowden, A. (Brighton K'pto'n)Hague, William
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)Hamilton, Hon Archie (Epsom)
Bowis, JohnHamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir RhodesHannam, John
Brandon-Bravo, MartinHargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr')
Brazier, JulianHargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)
Bright, GrahamHarris, David
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's)Haselhurst, Alan
Browne, John (Winchester)Hawkins, Christopher
Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon AlickHayes, Jerry
Buck, Sir AntonyHayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney
Budgen, NicholasHayward, Robert
Burns, SimonHeath, Rt Hon Edward
Burt, AlistairHeathcoat-Amory, David
Butler, ChrisHicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE)
Butterfill, JohnHicks, Robert (Cornwall SE)
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.
Carrington, MatthewHind, Kenneth
Carttiss, MichaelHogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)
Cash, WilliamHolt, Richard
Chalker, Rt Hon Mrs LyndaHowarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)
Channon, Rt Hon PaulHowarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)
Chapman, SydneyHowell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)
Chope, ChristopherHowell, Ralph (North Norfolk)
Churchill, MrHughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne)
Clark, Rt Hon Sir WilliamHunter, Andrew
Colvin, MichaelIrvine, Michael
Conway, DerekIrving, Sir Charles
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)Jack, Michael
Coombs, Simon (Swindon)Janman, Tim
Couchman, JamesJohnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey
Cran, JamesJones, Robert B (Herts W)
Currie, Mrs EdwinaKellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine
Curry, DavidKey, Robert
Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)
Davis, David (Boothferry)Kirkhope, Timothy
Day, StephenKnapman, Roger
Devlin, TimKnight, Greg (Derby North)
Dickens, GeoffreyKnight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)
Dicks, TerryKnowles, Michael
Dorrell, StephenKnox, David
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord JamesLang, Rt Hon Ian
Dover, DenLatham, Michael
Dunn, BobLee, John (Pendle)
Durant, Sir AnthonyLeigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)
Dykes, HughLennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Eggar, TimLilley, Rt Hon Peter
Emery, Sir PeterLloyd, Sir Ian (Havant)
Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd)Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Evennett, DavidLord, Michael
Fairbairn, Sir NicholasLuce, Rt Hon Sir Richard
Fallon, MichaelLyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
Favell, TonyMcCrindle, Sir Robert
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)Macfarlane, Sir Neil
Fishburn, John DudleyMacGregor, Rt Hon John
Forman, NigelMaclean, David
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)McLoughlin, Patrick
Forth, EricMcNair-Wilson, Sir Michael
Fox, Sir MarcusMcNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick
Madel, DavidShephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)
Major, Rt Hon JohnShepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Malins, HumfreyShersby, Michael
Mans, KeithSims, Roger
Maples, JohnSkeet, Sir Trevor
Marland, PaulSmith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Marlow, TonySpeed, Keith
Marshall, Sir Michael (Arundel)Speller, Tony
Martin, David (Portsmouth S)Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Mates, MichaelSquire, Robin
Maude, Hon FrancisStanbrook, Ivor
Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir PatrickStanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Mellor, Rt Hon DavidSteen, Anthony
Meyer, Sir AnthonyStern, Michael
Miller, Sir HalStevens, Lewis
Mills, IainStewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)
Mitchell, Sir DavidStewart, Rt Hon Ian (Herts N)
Moate, RogerSumberg, David
Monro, Sir HectorSummerson, Hugo
Montgomery, Sir FergusTapsell, Sir Peter
Moore, Rt Hon JohnTaylor, Ian (Esher)
Morris, M (N'hampton S)Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Morrison, Sir CharlesTebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Moss, MalcolmTemple-Morris, Peter
Moynihan, Hon ColinThompson, D. (Calder Valley)
Neale, Sir GerrardThompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Nelson, AnthonyThornton, Malcolm
Neubert, Sir MichaelThurnham, Peter
Nicholls, PatrickTownend, John (Bridlington)
Nicholson, David (Taunton)Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)
Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)Tracey, Richard
Norris, SteveTredinnick, David
Onslow, Rt Hon CranleyTrippier, David
Oppenheim, PhillipTrotter, Neville
Page, RichardTwinn, Dr Ian
Paice, JamesVaughan, Sir Gerard
Patnick, IrvineViggers, Peter
Patten, Rt Hon JohnWakeham, Rt Hon John
Pattie, Rt Hon Sir GeoffreyWalden, George
Pawsey, JamesWalker, Bill (T'side North)
Peacock, Mrs ElizabethWalker, Rt Hon P. (W'cester)
Porter, David (Waveney)Waller, Gary
Powell, William (Corby)Walters, Sir Dennis
Price, Sir DavidWard, John
Raffan, KeithWardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Raison, Rt Hon Sir TimothyWatts, John
Rathbone, TimWells, Bowen
Redwood, JohnWhitney, Ray
Rhodes James, RobertWiddecombe, Ann
Riddick, GrahamWiggin, Jerry
Ridley, Rt Hon NicholasWilkinson, John
Ridsdale, Sir JulianWilshire, David
Roberts, Sir Wyn (Conwy)Winterton, Mrs Ann
Roe, Mrs MarionWinterton, Nicholas
Rossi, Sir HughWolfson, Mark
Rost, PeterWood, Timothy
Rumbold, Rt Hon Mrs AngelaYeo, Tim
Sayeed, JonathanYoung, Sir George (Acton)
Scott, Rt Hon Nicholas
Shaw, David (Dover)Tellers for the Noes:
Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)Mr. David Lightbown and Mr. John M. Taylor.
Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Shelton, Sir William

Question accordingly negatived.

Question, That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 30 (Questions on amendments), and agreed to.

MR. SPEAKER forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.

Resolved, That this House welcomes the Government's swift and continuing generous responses to the crises in Iraq, Bangladesh and Sub-Saharan Africa; and also welcomes the Government's initiatives to ensure the continuing effectiveness of United Kingdom aid and to stimulate improved international disaster relief delivery.