Southern Africa Food Crisis

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:29 pm on 6th February 2003.

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Photo of Sally Keeble Sally Keeble Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for International Development 5:29 pm, 6th February 2003

I thought that the hon. Gentleman talked about debt. It is not true that the IMF is denying debt relief. The heavily indebted poor countries agreement for Zambia includes conditions on economic reform that the Zambian Government have yet to meet, but we hope that they will do so soon. As he knows, terms are attached to the conditions of aid or relief in relation to a number of measures, and the current situation relates to those.

The hon. Gentleman also mentioned Zimbabwe and asked what pressure is being put on Robert Mugabe. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that we have not had direct discussions about food aid, but when the executive director of the World Food Programme met Mugabe in Harare recently during a regional tour, he stressed the seriousness of the humanitarian crisis and the need for the Government to ensure that the food distribution is not biased. The WFP has put the case clearly.

My hon. Friend Tony Worthington set out clearly some big issues concerning development and, in particular, problems facing Africa, including governance, the need for transparency in payments, the massive problems relating to the lack of domestic investment and the fact that so much African capital is invested outside the continent. He highlighted the twin problems of the financial and political economies, which need massive restructuring. Sometimes, I think that the financial economy will be restructured long before the political. It seems that there are fewer levers for dealing with the political systems.

When considering all the difficulties of Africa, it is possible to miss areas of hope—for example, South Africa's management of the macro-economy and the role that it has played in terms of political leadership in southern Africa. South Africa has also played its part in respect of Mozambique, which has made considerable progress since liberation, and in respect of the glimmerings of a settlement and hope in Angola after nearly 30 years of the most desperate civil war. We need to consider the positives in Africa, as well as recognising its serious problems.

The hon. Member for Salisbury rightly highlighted the problems of reproductive health and the importance of ensuring that we have a sound international policy framework to deal with that issue. He also mentioned the pressures that could be imposed if we restrict options due to views on sex education, abortion services or family planning. I share his views on that, because if the countries concerned are to be able to overcome the profound difficulties involved with people dying of HIV/AIDS and the associated problems of infant and maternal mortality, they must have a full range of services at their disposal. They cannot be subject to limits set by people on the other side of the world and in very different circumstances.

The hon. Gentleman also raised the issue in respect of European Union spending. The EU picked up the tabs left by the United States when it cut off funding to the United Nations Family Planning Association. The amounts were substantial and the EU, where movement can be glacial, acted quickly. The views of the development Commissioner and the development directorate-general are extremely clear—they were most supportive to the UNFPA in taking forward its programme and they, too, believe that it is important for people to have a range of options.