Commonwealth Day 2006

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 5:46 pm on 16th March 2006.

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Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative 5:46 pm, 16th March 2006

I commend Sylvia Jackson for securing the debate and for her motion on Commonwealth day. I have enjoyed listening to members' reflections on the visit to Malawi by the delegation from the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association Scotland, of which I was glad to be part. As others have done, I thank Sylvia Jackson for leading the delegation and Roy Devon and Margaret Neal for shepherding us around. I also thank fellow members of the delegation for their generally genial company during the visit.

I offer a few reflections of my own. Malawi is a land of contrasts. On the one hand, we saw heartrending sights. We witnessed desperate poverty and saw people who do not have enough to eat. We saw people who live without basic amenities and have to walk for miles to obtain clean water. We saw people who lack basic health care and have access to only primitive opportunities for education. On the other hand, we witnessed many good things, many of which I am pleased to say are being supported by people in Scotland. I am not always a vocal supporter of the Scottish Executive, but the Executive is doing the right thing in giving effective support to Malawi that is delivering on the ground.

The delegation could see for itself that a little of our money goes a very long way in Malawi. What are to us very small sums of money can make a huge difference to people. I encourage people in Scotland who contribute to Malawi to redouble their efforts and I encourage other people to join them, because we can make such a difference to people's lives.

The tragedy of Malawi and sub-Saharan Africa is that there is no natural reason why the region should be poor. Malawi has suffered from drought in the past but the country has had rain this year and a good harvest is expected, as Mike Pringle said. Malawi has been blessed with peace, is generally stable, has reasonable natural resources and has people who are kind, friendly and hardworking. The failure of Malawi is a failure of politics and as the former colonial power in the country we must accept our share of responsibility for that. Malawi's Parliament has not met since October and might not meet again until April. All the things that need to be done in the country are difficult to achieve without a properly functioning democracy and the enforcement of the rule of law. The Scottish Parliament can and should help to strengthen the institutions of democracy in Malawi. Members mentioned the parliamentary reform programme that has been proposed, to which we should give our enthusiastic support. We should consider how this institution can help in kind, perhaps by sending members of staff such as parliamentary clerks to build links with people in Malawi. I suggest not that we tell Malawians how to run their country—we did enough of that in the past—but that we offer practical help. We should remember that there has been democracy in Malawi for only the past 12 years. We cannot expect Malawi immediately to become a country like ours, which has had a democratic system for 300 years.

My final words—which are probably the final words on behalf of the delegation—are to reflect on Karen Gillon's comment that Malawi is the warm heart of Africa. We all found that when we were there. For me, the highlights of the trip were our visits to churches, particularly during the second weekend, when we visited St Andrew's church in Mzuzu, which has a congregation of 2,500 people, the average age of which is probably about 25. Some people had walked miles to join in the worship. The faith and spirituality of people in Malawi puts us to shame. They may be poor in our terms—in material terms—but they have a richness that we seem to have lost. As we develop the relationship with Malawi, we can give people there a lot and they can learn a lot from us, but it is important that we remember that we can learn a lot from them.