Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:35 pm on 30th March 2009.

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Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change 9:35 pm, 30th March 2009

It is a privilege to take part briefly in this debate, and I am grateful to the hon. Members for City of Chester (Christine Russell), and for Stroud (Mr. Drew), for making shorter speeches than they might have done, to allow everyone who wanted to say a word, including me, to do so.

I apologise to the Under-Secretary of State for International Development, Mr. Lewis, for not having been here at the outset of the debate, but I had commitments outside the House, one of which was directly relevant to the debate. I was at a memorial service in St. Mary le Strand for someone whom I have known since we were both teenagers, Kari Blackburn Boto. After a great university career, Kari went on to become the head of the BBC World Service's Swahili service and of its Africa service, and was in charge of Africa and middle eastern services for the BBC. She died tragically, and in a very untimely way. The many people gathered with her family today were there to pay tribute to Kari, and to what the BBC World Service has done for Africa over the lifetime of all of us in the Chamber.

Kari, a white British woman who married a Ugandan, had a fantastic mixed-race family, including an adopted Ugandan son. She stood for developing the role of women in journalism in difficult communities, such as in the Muslim communities of Africa, and encouraging them to take leadership positions. The reputation of independent and impartial broadcasting played a hugely important part in the development of democracy, the understanding of the need for education, and the political processes of Africa. It was a timely coincidence that this debate was held on the same day as the service. Today would have been her 55th birthday. One of her sons was in the Gallery earlier, listening to this debate.

People such as Kari understand that Africa is a hugely complex and varied continent. I think that my borough has more African constituents than any other in Britain; my colleagues Ms Harman and Tessa Jowell and I have dealings with huge numbers of people from west Africa—Sierra Leone, Nigeria and Ghana. I pay tribute to those people for the contribution that they make in this country, but also for the way in which, as we have heard, they send remittances back. They become engaged in the issues, and go back and work for democratisation. Those from Sierra Leone, a community that has suffered so much, have tried to give back a huge amount.

I make a plea to the Government on behalf of people in this country who are of African descent, including people from Zimbabwe, who have been referred to by Members on both sides of the House. When people come here from Africa, particularly from Commonwealth countries, with which we have so much common heritage, we should understand our obligation to look after them well. We should give them the opportunity to work while they cannot go home, so that they can contribute to the country from which they have come while they are kept away from it.

There are many charities—my friend Alistair Burt referred to many of them—that do wonderful work in a collaborative way, in which people from Africa and people from this country work together. They include small charities such as XLP, which set up a secondary school in northern Ghana, and large charities such as WaterAid, which does such wonderful work in making sure that the risks resulting from environmental changes do not take an even more severe toll.

There are many other issues to think about after having heard such excellent contributions, but I end with two very simple points. Elections are coming up in South Africa; they will take place in just a few weeks' time. It is really important for the new Administration in South Africa to rise to the challenge of its continental responsibilities. It is important for it to carry on raising awareness, through the enlightened policy that it has recently adopted for dealing with HIV/AIDS. That must be continued, not the benighted policy that it had before. It must work really hard to curb the violence and lawlessness that can so undermine the spending that needs to take place on utilities, housing and education.

Finally, Tony Baldry generously mentioned that he and I had attended the UK launch of the network of parliamentarians across the world whose aim is to support others in conflict prevention and human security. As we meet on the eve of the G20, I hope that the Ministers on the Front Bench, our Prime Minister and the other leaders will pay heed to the communiqué issued at the end of that launch conference, which made it clear—for the great lakes region, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and others it is central—that conflict prevention saves money as well as saving lives, and that the ratio of £2,000 on defence budgets compared with £1 on conflict prevention budgets needs to be changed. I hope that we shall see a new priority for Africa, not only in Africa but also in the policies of the Government at home.

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