Horn of Africa

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 11:40 am on 26th January 2010.

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Photo of Edward Davey Edward Davey Shadow Secretary of State (Foreign Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs) 11:40 am, 26th January 2010

Not from the United Kingdom. What lies, quite rightly, behind the hon. Gentleman's intervention is the fact that we cannot afford not to provide helicopters for our troops who are engaged in conflict. When I met the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon to talk about the issue, I suggested that he put pressure on the British Government and others to use the funds that the Government had been putting into a pot to get helicopters from countries that had spare ones, such as Ukraine, the Russian Federation and others. It is clear from talking to people in the industry that those countries have spare helicopters that could be keyed up. As the hon. Gentleman knows, it is not just about providing the helicopters; there are the pilots-you need more than one per team-the mechanics and the spare parts. This is therefore a complicated logistical exercise, but the British Government and others have nevertheless said that the money would be there, and that has never been denied. However, as far as I know-I would be delighted if the Minister proves me wrong-they have never used the money to underwrite deals with countries that have helicopters and which would not, of course, give us them for use in Afghanistan or elsewhere.

I want to finish with two points. First, in this debate about the conflicts in the horn of Africa, let us remember the ordinary people there and the humanitarian crisis that the vast majority of them face as a result of conflict. I hope that the Minister will tell us what work is being done through the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Department for International Development or international agencies to ensure that we protect civilians and meet the humanitarian challenge as far as possible. We are all realistic about the ability of Britain and the wider international community to end these conflicts any time soon, but that does not detract from our responsibility to help those who are caught up in them and who suffer as a result. I hope that the Minister will say something about that.

My final point is one that I should perhaps have mentioned earlier, although I am sure that colleagues will agree with what I have to say. Given the piracy that we have seen, particularly off the Somali coast, we should remember Paul and Rachel Chandler, who were taken hostage on 23 October. The Minister may want to give us the latest information that he has about them. He may have read reports that they gave an interview to an ITN reporter, in which they said that they would be killed if the money that had been demanded was not handed over by 24 January. Obviously, we hope and pray that that has not happened, and we would all be grateful if the Minister can give colleagues an update on the situation.

The example of Mr. and Mrs. Chandler shows, perhaps in a slightly extreme way, that instability in other parts of the world has knock-on effects for British citizens. That is why this debate is important and why the hon. Member for The Wrekin has done the House a service by bringing it to the Chamber.